Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, A Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.


Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sunday, January 29, 2017

First Reading
Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
There will be a people who remain sheltered from God's anger.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 146:6-10
The Lord is faithful forever.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
God chooses the weak to show his power.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus teaches what it means to be happy.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today's reading is the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew's Gospel. The form of the Beatitudes found here is not unique to Jesus. Beatitudes are found in the Old Testament, in the psalms, and in wisdom literature, for example. They are a way to teach about who will find favor with God.

We quickly note in this reading that the people whom Jesus calls “blessed” and “happy” are not people we think of as blessed or happy . . . the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted. This Gospel is one of reversals. Jesus' blueprint for happiness reflects little of what the world might call happiness.

“Blessed” is sometimes translated as happy, fortunate, or favored. In other words, Jesus is saying that divine favor is upon those who are poor, those who mourn, those who are persecuted. This news might have been welcome—and surprising—to the crowds who heard Jesus that day.

The Beatitudes can be understood as a framework for Christian living. Our vocation as Christians is not to be first in this world, but rather to be first in the eyes of God. By referring to the good things that the faithful will experience, Matthew reminds us that those who act in the manner described in the Beatitudes will find their reward with God.

Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus teaches what it means to be happy.

Jesus told the crowd that God blesses those who are humble, obedient, merciful, and peace-loving—even though the world may ridicule them. He promises that their reward will be in heaven.

Materials Needed

  • Bean bag
  • Masking tape
  • A simple prize

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Bring a beanbag to class. Mark a line on the floor with masking tape.

  2. Invite children to stand several feet behind the line. Say: Everyone will have a turn, but who would like to throw the beanbag first and who wants to be the last? Most children will want to be first, of course. Allow the children to each take a turn. Then give a prize to the child who is last. Explain that the last child would have received the prize even if he or she had not gotten the beanbag over the line. Tell the children that today's Gospel will help them to understand why the last child is getting the prize today.

  3. Read today's Gospel, Matthew 5:1-12a, to the children.

  4. Say: In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus promise happiness and blessings to many people. Who are some of the people Jesus calls happy? (those who mourn, peacemakers, the clean of heart, and so on) Is this surprising to you? Why or why not? (Accept all reasonable answers.) Say: If you understand what Jesus taught in today's Gospel, then you might be able to tell us why the last child in our game today received a prize.

  5. Ask: Why do you think the last child received the prize today? After hearing the children's ideas, explain that the Beatitudes teach us that those who put the needs of others ahead of their own needs will be rewarded by God.

  6. Conclude by praying together the Beatitudes or by singing a song, such as the “Peace Prayer of St. Francis” or “This Little Light of Mine.”

Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus teaches what it means to be happy.

Young people today hear many messages about what makes a person happy. Many of the messages about happiness from our contemporary culture try to sell us quick and superficial happiness. In the Beatitudes, Jesus offers us an alternative prescription for happiness, one that promises lasting happiness to those who live by his teaching.

Materials Needed

  • Several advertisements that link the product advertised with happiness
  • Art supplies for making advertisements

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Show several examples of advertisements that claim that the product advertised will bring happiness. Ask: What does this advertisement want you to believe about this product? (that it will make you happy; that it will make you successful) Can this product actually do that? (It might bring short-term happiness but not anything that lasts.)

  2. Invite several volunteers to read today's Gospel, Matthew 5:1-12a. Perhaps a different person can read each one of the Beatitudes.

  3. Ask: What are some of the things that Jesus says will bring blessings and happiness? (poverty of spirit, mourning, seeking righteousness, a clean heart) Invite the children to consider what one or more of the Beatitudes means by asking them to name a specific example of what the Beatitude teaches. “Blessed are the merciful,” for example, means that we will find happiness when we forgive someone who has hurt us.

  4. Invite each person in the group to create an advertisement about how to live one of the Beatitudes. Display these ads as part of your closing prayer.

  5. To conclude, decorate your prayer space with the children's advertisements. Gather in the prayer space and pray together prayers of petition based on the Beatitudes, such as “We pray that we will be peacemakers who seek to get along with other people even when this is difficult. We pray to the Lord.” All respond: “Lord hear our prayer.”

Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus teaches what it means to be happy.


Young people at this age are bombarded with messages that promise them happiness. In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus reverses expectations and points out what true happiness is.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Do the following opposites exercise.

  2. Go around the room and give each young person a chance to name the opposite of the word you say aloud.

  3. Use the following words: deep (shallow), maximum (minimum), wide (narrow), ask (answer), active (passive), fail (succeed), love (hate), defend (attack), true (false), together (separate), cheap (expensive), future (past), all (none), help (hurt), return (depart), boring (exciting), friend (enemy), increase (decrease), noisy (quiet), accidentally (deliberately), capture (release), lose (gain or win), child (adult), brave (cowardly), punishment (reward), remember (forget), few (many), guilty (innocent).

  4. When finished, tell the young people that in this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus teaches us the Beatitudes, which reveal that happiness can be found in the opposite of what society teaches us.

  5. Invite volunteers to read aloud Matthew 5:1-12a.

  6. Ask: What are some of the things that society says will make us happy? (money, possessions, power, pleasure) What are some of the things that Jesus says will bring blessings and happiness? (poverty of spirit, mourning, seeking righteousness, a clean heart)

  7. Invite the young people to consider what one or more of the Beatitudes means by asking them to name a specific example of what the Beatitude teaches. (Example: “Blessed are the merciful” means that we will find happiness when we forgive someone who has hurt us.)

  8. Say: Jesus teaches us that true happiness is often found in the opposite of what society teaches will make us happy.

  9. To conclude, gather in the prayer space and pray together prayers of petition based on the Beatitudes, such as “We pray that we will be peacemakers who seek to get along with other people, even when it is difficult. We pray to the Lord.” All respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Family Connection

Today's Gospel offers a contrast to many of the messages we hear in our society today. If we were to accept uncritically the “get ahead” messages of our culture, we would think that happiness means having money, being successful, having many possessions, and so on. When we think this way, we are not unlike the people who heard Jesus teach on the day that he taught the Beatitudes. The crowd that day also associated happiness with material possessions and status.

Talk as a family about what it means to be happy or to be blessed. Make a list of traits that you would associate with a happy person. Then read together today's Gospel, Matthew 5:1-12a. Reflect on Jesus' description of happiness. Think about what each of the Beatitudes might have in common and write a family summary of the Beatitudes. Post the summary in a special place as a reminder of what your family will consider “true happiness.”

Conclude by praying together prayers of petition based on the Beatitudes, e.g., “We pray that we will be peacemakers who seek to get along with other people even when this is difficult. We pray to the Lord.” All respond: “Lord, hear our prayer.”