The Remnant

Today’s first reading is from the Prophet Zephaniah. It is only three chapters long and it is filled with darkness, distress, destruction, death, doom, and despair. Yet, in the midst of all that – there is a message of hope, for a remnant of the people; people described as humble and lowly. People who take refuge in the Lord. People who remain faithful to God even as all around them crumbles and falls apart. A remnant who has already seen the Assyrian empire conquer most of the promise in the promised land. A remnant that can already see the Babylonian threat on the horizon. A remnant that even as they wonder how this all plays out in God’s plan, they are the faithful …. and hanging on. They recognize that they are blessed by God. It might be hard for us to see it, but they see it. And that challenges us just as the more famous beatitudes of today’s gospel also challenges us.

Blessed are the poor…they who mourn…the meek…the merciful…the clean of heart…the peacemakers… the persecuted.  In Matthew’s version, Jesus is not addressing the crowds of people, he is teaching the disciples. He is teaching faithful Jews who know how the story of Zephaniah turns out.  Everyone ends up in Exile in Babylon and even when that time is complete, it is the faithful remnant that returns to find Jerusalem destroyed and the Temple gone. They are reduced from a great nation to a poor people. And yet they are faithful. And they recognize the blessings in their life.

I think we can all offer an answer of what it might mean to be fortunate, successful, fulfilled, accomplished, and to have a good life. Is that what it means to be blessed by God? Maybe the question is easier to approach by asking what it feels like to be blessed. Maybe then we can begin to get a sense of Jesus’ promise. Perhaps we would come up with something akin to be blessed feels like

  • you have someone’s unconditional respect.
  • you are not and will not be alone,
  • you will be accompanied wherever you go.
  • you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances,
  • you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences.
  •  you have worth – not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are.

I am pretty sure I just described part of what it means to be in relationship to Christ; to realize that you are blessed… and now challenged to become a blessing for others.

And if you stop and think about it…. Isn’t that a description of Jesus’ earthly ministry? Jesus blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people. Why? To proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be — with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. To be with the people of Zephaniah’s time.

Here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus urges his disciples – then and now – to look at those around us differently than the culture does. To recognize our blessings and then,

  • Rather than measure persons by their possessions, we are invited to see them – to truly see them as God sees them.
  • Rather than merely take pity on their losses, we are invited to enter them.
  • Rather than judge their failings, we are invited to forgive and remind them that they are blessed by God and born for more than they’ve settled for.
  • Rather than deride weakness, we are called to see in it the truest point of meeting between God’s children.

All the while knowing that God reveals God’s self to us most clearly and consistently at places of deepest need. This is what it means to be a faithful remnant. To be a community where we recognize that God always comes where we least expect God to be – amid our brokenness – to bless that which the world refuses to bless, to love what the world calls unlovable, and to redeem that which the world does not believe is worth saving.

And what would it be like if we left church with new eyes, able to perceive in the needs of their neighbor not a nuisance or even something to be pitied but rather that marks of blessedness to which we are privileged to attend?

It begins with your own answer to the question: “Are you blessed?”

Recognize the blessings in your life and then allow yourself to be shaped in God’s grace to be different from the world around us, to be people, families, and a faith community where others can experience holiness, help, hospitality, and hope.

Holiness, Help, Hospitality and Hope

These are the marks of a faithful remnant.

Blessed is the faithful remnant, for theirs is the kingdom of God.


Image credit: Cosimo Rosselli Sermone della Montagna, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain 

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