13 February 2022
As I am out of the country this Sunday, the homily below will not be delivered in person
It is provided here simply for reflection. No audio will be available.
Jeremiah 17, 5-8 + Psalm 1 + 1 Corinthians 15, 12-16 + Luke 6, 17, 20-26
There is something very important to notice in Luke’s Beatitudes that differs from Matthew, and I suspect that hardly anyone would notice if no attention was given to the exact words. We have so easily blended together the two that we hardly notice that Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor, or hungry, or weeping, or hated”. Matthew says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In Luke there is no nuance or need to reflect on what it means. It’s right out there in plane language. Both Matthew and Luke have adjusted their precise wording to their own communities.
Luke’s community was very diverse in social, economic, and probably ethnic background. For Luke, the coexistence of genuine wealth and true poverty in any Christian community is a scandal, and so he cries out with a warning to the rich that what they have now is all they are going to get. Nothing in the future.
The happiness he speaks of is found among those who are poor because poverty creates interdependence, a sense of the common good. The poor know that they need each other so much so that the only wealth they treasure is the richness of human relationships. They know that when one person is hungry, all people are malnourished.
The happy people Jesus describes are those who weep, because they never weep alone. There is a solidarity among them while the rich end up isolated, anxious, and defensive fearful that some of what they have amassed be lost or taken from them. They lead a lonely life, distrusting others, suspicious, and often in denial, offended by the Gospel.
Luke teaches us that material poverty is a condition of blessedness, and he warns that passivity in the face of others’ needs leads to everlasting woe. With this teaching on the part of Jesus, he is turning upside down the thinking of the time that still seeps into our time. Poverty then, and sometimes now, was never an indication of blessedness. It was regarded as evil. The poor were thought to be bad or sinful, not favored by God; while those not in poverty were thought to be blessed.
Jesus addresses these words today to disciples who are not among the destitute poor. They are the ones who have the means to be agents of divine blessing to those who are needy. His invitation to disciples is to embrace some form of being poor as an essential aspect of their commitment to Jesus. As the Gospel continues, Luke presents many examples of how to respond and embrace poverty. Fishermen and Tax Collectors leave everything behind to follow Jesus. Zacchaeus will give half of his possessions to the poor. In Acts of the Apostles he will describe how the pooling or resources leads to a community that cares for one another. What is never an option in the Gospel is hoarding for one’s self.
This blessedness that Jesus holds up is not something for the future. It is for the here and now, and it is a foretaste of what it will be like in the Kingdom of God. No wish for the future for an abstract and unknown group of the “poor”, but a concrete possibility when the needs of real people are known and the resources of the community are shared. I find it interesting to note that in the Acts of the Apostles, when the young church is really living the Gospel mandate, the word “poor” is never mentioned. There are no poor when people live as one.