Zephaniah is one of the least-known of the Old Testament prophets. He speaks in today’s first reading of impending judgment. But the Lord will leave a “remnant” in Israel. This image of a remnant, or remainder, was to become vital to both Judaism and Christianity. Paul’s letter to Corinth makes obvious his deep concern for the Christians there. They are too self-confident, he says, too sure of themselves. He admonishes them to remember that Christ has given them all they have.
Today’s Gospel comprises the opening of Jesus’ “Great Sermon.” As God gave Moses the law on Sinai, so now Jesus gathers his disciples on a hillside to teach them the new law. Each of these Beatitudes contrasts the humiliation of the present with the glory of the future: poverty vs. the riches of God’s kingdom, hunger for holiness vs. fulfillment in the Spirit, persecution vs. the reign of God. Jesus is here speaking to God’s chosen “remnant.”