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Becoming Like Jesus

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
 righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-11)
The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen says that these words of the Beatitudes offer us “a self-portrait of Jesus. Jesus is the Blessed One. And the face of the Blessed One shows poverty, gentleness, meekness, grief, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and signs of persecution. The whole message of the Gospel is this – become like Jesus. We have his self-portrait. When we keep that in front of our eyes, we will soon learn what it means to follow Jesus and become like Him.” 

When Jesus calls His first followers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, to leave their fishing boats, leave their livelihood, leave their families, leave everything they know and feel comfortable with, and follow Him in today’s Gospel story, He is inviting them to begin a journey of imitating His life! Not only did the disciples watch Jesus as he “taught in their synagogues, preached the Good News of the Kingdom, and healed all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of diseases among the people” (Mt 4:23), but more importantly they watched how He lived, listened to what He taught, observed how He interacted with others, marveled at His humble and meek spirit, and slowly realized that the time would come when Christ would expect them to continue this same work. Eventually, the followers of Jesus would become ambassadors of Christ, imitators of His life, icons of His divine image, and messengers of His Good News. The world would know that they were His disciples by the way they imitated their Master. 

Now if we fast forward 2000 years, we realize that WE are the followers of Jesus Christ and the ones called to imitate His life! Jesus calls US to carry His Spirit, continue His ministry, proclaim His Good News, and live our lives as He lived His life! Jesus even said, “Be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” From reading Holy Scriptures, we understand who Jesus is and how He lived, and we see that it is now OUR turn to walk as He walked, talk as He talked, live as He lived, and even die as He died. St. Paul highlights this when he challenges us to adopt the “mind of Christ,” to become “imitators of Jesus,” to become Christ-like for the world around us!

So think about this: when people see us and watch our lives and listen to our words, do they see Jesus in us? Is the spirit that we pass on to others the spirit of God, or the spirit of this world? And how do we become more Christ-like in our lives?

Nouwen says that the Beatitudes offer a “portrait” of the life of Christ, and path for all followers of Jesus to follow! 

Blessed are the poor in spirit – Do we truly realize our own spiritual poverty? Do we turn to God in utter trust on His rich mercy and grace? St. John Chrysostom understood the poor in spirit to be the humble person who was totally aware of their utter dependence on God.

Blessed are those who mourn - Are we people who mourn over our own sinfulness, as well as lamenting over the sins and sufferings of the world around them? The Spirit of God within us means we will look upon the world as He looks upon others, with deep compassion and a desire for the well-being of everyone, including even those who are lost in their own ways.

Blessed are the meek – Are we people who are humble and patient, slow to anger and gentle with others, people who have great self-control over all our passions? The meek are “God-controlled” people. Meekness is not a sign of passive weakness, as the world may describe it, but meekness is a sign of controlled strength derived from one’s trust in God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – Do we understand this graphic portrayal of a deep sense of longing and desire for God’s righteousness and justice in the world around us, as well as a passion for our own personal righteousness, which can only occur when one strives for perfection according to God’s will?

Blessed are the merciful - Mercy is love in action, love in motion, one of the greatest characteristics of God. The life of Jesus fully exemplified the idea of mercy. God doesn't call us to judge and condemn others, but to look at others with compassion, with empathy, with forgiveness, and with mercy. Are we people of mercy?

Blessed are the pure in heart - A "pure heart" represents not only a sincere inner moral purity but moreso a heart free from any concern outside the will of God. Purity implies fidelity and loyalty to God's commands. Our motives must be concerned only for God and His will and nothing else. Are we cultivating a pure heart within?

Blessed are the peacemakers – To make lasting peace, we first must make peace with God, then within our inner being, and finally with the world around us. There is a difference between peace-loving and peace-making. The peace which the Bible calls blessed does not come from the evasion of issues but from facing them, dealing with them and conquering them. We must go out of our way to create peace for ourselves and others. Although such peacemaking is difficult, it is nonetheless demanded as a responsibility for accepting the given blessing.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake - St. John Chrysostom stresses that persecution in itself isn't a blessing. Just to suffer for any cause isn't noteworthy. Suffering for the righteousness of God, imitating how Jesus Himself endured suffering and even death for the sins of the entire world, is what God blesses. This whole theme of persecution is a prophetic reminder to the sufferings and afflictions which the disciples of Christ will encounter in their lives.

“The whole message of the Gospel is this – become like Jesus. We have His self-portrait [in the Beatitudes]. When we keep that in front of our eyes, we will soon learn what it means to follow Jesus and become like Him.”