Saturday, February 13, 2010

In the Kingdom of God, the Poor Help YOU

(6th Sunday, C)

For the past few Sundays we have been hearing about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry according to St. Luke. First we had two weeks of his inaugural sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, Last Sunday was the calling of the first apostles. Today we begin to hear the preaching of Jesus in earnest with the beginning of his “Sermon on the Plain.” Jesus begins this great sermon with a set of four beatitudes—‘blessed are you’—matched with four corresponding woes—‘woe to you.’

These are good for us to hear because we are much more accustomed to St. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, which we hear every year on All Saints Day and is among the most popular choices for the gospel of funeral and wedding Masses. St. Luke’s version, however, is starker. There is no “Blessed are the poor in spirit” here, no chance to hedge or mystify the teaching. “Blessed are you who are poor…who are hungry…who are weeping,” proclaims St. Luke’s Jesus, and “Woe to you are rich…who are filled…who laugh now, for you will weep.” Worldly fortune has been reversed.

This is hard stuff, but we have to try to take it seriously. For God, in the birth of Jesus Christ, has accomplished this great reversal. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Elizabeth, our Blessed Mother’s cousin, becomes the first person to proclaim the prayer that will become for us the Hail Mary: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary responds with her great Magnificat, which the Church sings as the gospel for Evening Prayer each day: God has “cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly/the hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

The very birth of Jesus Christ is itself this great reversal. In Jesus, God has given everything and even Himself away and become poor. We saw this all through the Christmas season when the Almighty God was revealed in poor and vulnerable child. As we go forward into Lent later this week, we will begin to contemplate the poverty and humility of God from the aspect of the Cross, wherein God is revealed as a condemned and tortured criminal. Both of these mysteries of the sublime humility of God are recapitulated and made present for us here at the Eucharist, as Jesus makes himself present to us, as St. Francis says, “under the little form of bread.”

What this means is that God, by revealing himself as a self-abandoning poverty and vulnerability, has identified himself with the poor and vulnerable of this world. So we have to ask ourselves what this might mean for us, especially any of us, who, like me, worry that they might be among the recipients of Jesus’ curse, being well provided for in this world, being “filled now.”

It seems to me that we can challenge ourselves in at least a couple of ways. First, we must adopt an attitude and spirituality that find their hope in God rather than in the things of this world. This is what we hear from Jeremiah the prophet in the first reading: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,” but “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” As many of us have learned the hard way in these times, the securities of this world are not reliable. Only in God do we have a true and lasting security. One of the documents of the Second Vatican Council that you never hear about, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, describes the attitude of God’s people: “Following Jesus in His poverty, they are neither depressed by the lack of temporal goods nor inflated by their abundance; imitating Christ in His humility, they have no obsession for empty honors.” (§4)

Second, because God, in Jesus Christ, has identified himself with the poor and the vulnerable, we too should put ourselves on the side of the poor. Those who are poor, hungry, and weeping right now in this world should be at the heart of our prayer, at the front of our concern, and at the center of our debates on public policy. When we can do this, we have truly become the Body of Christ we proclaim ourselves to be here at Mass.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Great homility. I think on an everyday basis, the poor help us all. And often, when help is needed, who is the first to offer? The one who can least afford to help! (At least, in my circles.)

Anonymous said...

Up late, family asleep, head in my hands about my furnace and how I will pay for repairs, I find a new perspective. Thank you.

Brother Charles said...

Hi Anonymous,

My prayers that it will work out.

4narnia said...

great homily, Fr. C! was glad to hear it in person! PEACE! ~tara t~