1st November 2015
The first reading is from the Book of Revelations; the writing is to a large extent visionary, utilizing Old Testament interpretations of history, images of heavenly realities and hopes for the future completion of God’s creation. At one point the author dreams of the opening of seven sealed documents about disasters in the history of the world, past, present or future; but just before he reaches the perfect number seven, he inserts the passage from which we read today (Revelations 7:2 -14). This opens with the suspension of the stormy elements of disaster brought by the four angels, and the signing with a seal for rescue on those to be saved; at first the perfect number of 144,000 is given for the tribes of the chosen people as those to be saved (the mention of each tribe is omitted from the reading), but that is followed by a countless number of every variety of person one might find in the world; all are rescued by the Lamb of God – salvation from the great disaster – for which there is celebratory thanksgiving.
The second reading is from 1 John 3:1-3 (the first of three short letters to Christians in the tradition of John’s Gospel); it seems to be written by one who has an oversight of a number of church communities, and that there are two groups of Christians who interpret things differently and have split from each other. The writer is trying to encourage faithfulness to the early teaching and to the tradition that goes back to Christ himself. But the message of Jesus and the beliefs of Christians were from the start developing to suit differing contexts and to express further reflection on the mysteries of God and Incarnation. It seems that the ‘elder’ writing the letter is upbraiding those whom, he thinks, have taken this development too far, though in exactly what way is not clear. This short passage is stressing the changed relationship that Christians have with God through the reality of the Incarnation; he uses the word ‘children’ to express this though admits the mystery of what this will be in the future when Christ reveals Himself in some fuller way. However he contrasts the Christians with other people (‘the world’) in a way that might shock us nowadays; at least in the Catholic Church for the last 50 years the values of others have been respected: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons [and daughters ed.], that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among them.” (Nostra aetate).
The third reading Matthew 5:1-12a expresses the qualities, attitudes and actions that we should strive for if we are to be truly happy (be blessed), usually referred to as the beatitudes. Although you might count nine or even ten of them Matthew has put the first eight of them poetically together in a section opening and closing with the same second part of the couplet: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They are drawn to a large extent from thoughts in the Old Testament (Matthew’s Bible). The setting is from a mountain which is a place of special revelation, for example at the transfiguration (chapter 17) and after the resurrection; the disciples are close to Jesus to learn about the new laws for life, just as Moses received the Commandments on mount Sinai; Jesus sits, which is the customary way for a Rabbi to teach; His teaching is to be passed – the last words of Jesus to His disciples in this gospel are a commission to pass His teaching on to others (Matthew 28:16ff). Matthew clarifies what is meant by poor – it is not necessarily those on low income, or beggars, but those living a simple spiritual life free from attachment to earthly goods. Being pure in heart might mean avoiding desires of a sexual or avaricious nature (lust or greed) but the phrase can also mean having a healthy and spiritual vision of what one is to do with one’s life. The rest of the chapter might expand on the beatitudes in the reverse order of the eight.