There is no call like a call from God. Summoned to act on the Word they hear, Christians can be compelled to do extraordinary things. If we happen to be one of these people, called to do extraordinary things (like follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ) it is certainly not because of who we are, the family or society that we have been born into. There are no stated prerequisites be becoming a disciple. The body of Christ has all sorts: fishers, tax collectors, you name them, they worship among us. All ordinary people called to do extraordinary things.
In the letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians we hear, as we so often do, that people of God are at best an average bunch. “Not many are wise” says St. Paul, “not many are powerful, and not many are of noble birth” -ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Throughout history we have witnessed a whole tradition of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Take Dorothy Day, for example.
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II officially opened the cause for canonization of this rebellious American feminist who was to some a hippie and to others an anarchist. Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, several houses of hospitality for victims of “the Depression”, and an outspoken opponent of several international conflicts, Day was as ordinary as any of us yet extraordinary at the same time.
As a young woman, then of little faith formation, Dorothy wandered. She suffered a failed marriage as well as an abortion. She was easily duped by men, ideas, and even money all until called by Christ through a Catholic faith and the yearnings of the poor. With God in her life Day matured into a “faith-passioned” woman widely recognized as a Saint, even before her death in 1980.
Today’s gospel poses an extreme vocational challenge to we who hear it. “Eight Do’s”, spelled-out by Jesus himself, are a discomforting reminder of how selfish we can so often be. The beatitudes are, in fact, so challenging a call to action that they make the Ten Commandments, or the “Ten Do-Not’s”, sound easy.
But I won’t suggest that we abandon what Jesus taught; I might instead suggest a different approach to this “Sermon on the Mount”. Might we ask who Jesus is talking about?
A critical look at Jesus’ description of the blessed: the poor, the mournful, the comforted, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted, makes apparent that he speaks of none other, or no-other more evidently, than Himself. Poor, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted, Jesus alone is truly blessed. A rejected stone and Son of God, He is no ordinary person, He is extraordinary.
Like the exiled people of Israel, Jesus endured persecution with hope. Like Dorothy Day, Jesus faced injustices and embraced poverty. And like ourselves, Christ strove to live out his vocation without full knowledge of what that meant, without worldly power, and without much in the way of status. Among those who dwell in the world, He was ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
Unlike the Israelites, Dorothy Day, you or I, Christ accomplished his work to perfection. A perfect Saviour, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Jesus brings justice to the poor and freedom to we who, to some degree, remain enslaved. His is a high bar; what He did may be imitated, but He shall never be equated. Our own Lord is a reminder of how ordinary, short of extraordinary, we all are.
As for the beatitudes, these are clearly not about us. God’s blessings for the poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemaking, and the persecuted may neither be about those we know or encounter. But these eight, impossible, do’s are nevertheless the guidelines for discipleship and our invitation to do as Jesus does.
A reminder of whom we are, as well as whom we are not, may God’s blessings, the “eight do’s”, call us toward a joyful reception of the grace to do as He does. May God help us ordinary people to follow in Christ’s extraordinary footsteps.