In April of 1986, two gray-haired men greeted each other in Tokyo’s airport. Both men had tears in their eyes, one man was an American named Ponich. The other was Japanese named Ishibashi, the last time they met was 40 years before in a cave Okinawa. Sergeant Ponich had brought a small 5-year-old Japanese Boy who had been shot in the legs into the cave. He was washing the wounds of the child, trying to stop the bleeding. Ishibashi was a Sniper hiding in the cave; he came out of the dark corner.
He aimed his rifle at Ponich and prepared to fire point-blank. There was nothing Ponich could do; he simply continued tending to the child. Ishibashi watched in amazement, and then slowly he lowered his rifle. Then Ponich stood up, took the child in his arms, bowed and said the word hospital in Japanese. He left the cave and took the child to an American field hospital. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, He was talking to the crowds, everyday people like you and me.
He was not giving high-octane spiritual advice that only the already highly sanctified could follow. He was giving a prescription for daily living for ordinary people. Have you ever forgiven someone, ever said, do not worry about it. Let’s move on, begin again, that is one example of “blest are they who show mercy.” Have you ever realized that you were helpless in a certain situation and had only God to rely on… “that is blest are the poor in spirit.” Have you ever been in a situation where the wrong thing looked extremely attractive?
And the right thing looked extremely difficult and asked God to help you do the right thing because you really wanted to do it but not sure you could? “That is blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness.” Have you ever been extremely sad and upset over a loss of some kind, worked your way through it, and later realized that it helped you grow and become a better person…. “That is blest are the sorrowing.” Last week I had to visit a homeless shelter in NYC. I cannot remember ever being so shocked.
Mental patients, women and children, it was more like something out of a Dicken’s novel than 21st century New York. So what do followers of Christ say to these people in our midst, do we dare say “Blessed are you…you are in a fortunate situation.” Can we at least say “Blessed are you because God loves you…because Christ has a special place in His heart for the oppressed, the disinherited. Blessed are you because somehow we know not how…somehow the blessings of God’s kingdom will be yours.” Sometime….we know not when sometimes you will laugh and leap for joy.
“Blessed are you because God alone can fill your emptiness. Blessed are you because you prick our conscience. Because you reveal to us our poverty in God’s eyes. Blessed are you because you are living the crucified Christ that we so often avoid.” Today’s gospel is an invitation to ask ourselves to what extent do we qualify to be called blessed by Jesus. Are we a person whom Jesus would give the name merciful…are we a person to whom Jesus gives the name peacemaker?
Are we a person to whom Jesus would give the name poor in spirit? Do we ever stop to think what it means to be a Christian? There are no easy answers to these questions. It would be easier to pretend the challenge is not there. Perhaps, there could be another Beatitude added to the list. Something like this, “Blessed are those who struggle with the issues. Who suffer criticism for acting on behalf on the gospel? The reward…maybe Zephaniah gives us a clue in the words uttered by the Lord.
They will pasture and lie down and no one shall make them afraid. There was a long-running soap opera called “One life to live.” Today’s gospel asks us a simple question-how are we living our life?