Sixth Sunday of the Year
This week’s readings are not especially comforting with blessings and woes. As we reflect on them, we need to remember people who collected these texts already believed in a God of limitless compassion and justice and if we allow ourselves to be caught in it, God is utterly life-giving. We are aware of the world’s brutality which pains God’s heart and needs to touch our hearts. Jesus also opens us up to the reality where we can ignore what hurts our sisters and brothers or silence cruel and inhuman injustice. How many of us look away from the plight of Julian Assange, Bernard Collaery, First Nations people worldwide, asylum seekers, and Palestinian people.
The readings lay before us the challenge to decide what road we take: to keep deceiving ourselves, or open our eyes to the reality of the poor, of injustice, of neglect, of inequality, world hunger and people stripped of dignity and rendered voiceless. With the growing disparity between people, Jesus’ words are powerful and subversive. They clash with a world that has been crafted over generations to raise some to unfathomable opulence while billions struggle to sustain themselves. In the face of this, there is a plot in the church to neutralise Pope Francis and Catholic Social teaching, and worse, to neutralise Jesus and his preferential option for the poor which has filled our readings for some weeks. There is a stark expression of this option in today’s gospel where Jesus says the poor are the object of God’s special favour.
Jesus speaks to our hearts, our ears, and our experience on ’level’ ground. During the long period of Covid-19, we have explored new platforms for just about everything. And platforms matter. Some are better than others for doing the job whether digital, hybrid, or face-to-face. Platforms make a difference. Luke understands this. He has Jesus looking directly on an on equal footing. Jesus is portrayed as being especially attentive to people on society’s margins: the sick, women, the outcast, children. God’s passion for people leaves God pained by the failure to notice or care. I think Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, mirror Jesus words to the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. Jesus’ words mirror those of Mary, who sang of the proud being scattered, the lowly being lifted up, the hungry filled, and the rich sent away empty. Her song offers much hope after a year where many have suffered loss, heartache, hardship and tragedy from a pandemic, climate change, and violence. Jesus words, and of Mary, remind us of God’s promises and character where there will be a great reversal to a new and radically more equitable ‘normal’.
Luke’s concern is with the real experience of poor, hungry and suffering people and those called ‘blessed’ are those who are dissatisfied with the present order, the so -called ‘normal’, and notice when women, young people, street people, street people indigenous people and gay people are bullied. They have no use for the status quo which those in power find unbearable and focus on the world to come rather than this world’s needs. Jesus dreamt of a ‘new world’ [not utopia], a kin-dom, a commonwealth, which included radical sharing of food and resources. Jesus’ concern was to feed this group of street people, to care for this group of unemployed people, these youth and these frail elderly people. It is about real listening and respect, real food, real jobs, real education, and real health care. It is to include those who often excluded: people with mental or physical disabilities, people who are different, odd or eccentric, gay and lesbian people, and even those seen as a threat to our institutions. This pain cannot be spiritualised with ‘pie the sky preaching’.
Jesus, as well as Jeremiah, was pained by the inability of people ‘to notice’ and be present which led to a failure to care for others around them. Missionaries of the Sacred Heart are called to ‘Be on earth the heart of God.’ It cannot remain a slogan as the title ‘Christian’ needs to have arms and legs. It is not enough to speak of God’s extraordinary love when people are struggling and in need. Jesus announced the god news as for the blind, the poor and the oppressed. Speaking of the extraordinary love of God is hollow if we are not prepared to act in radical ways ourselves. Those who try to live faithfully amid chaos, in the midst of death, in the midst of justice have allowed themselves to be touched by Jesus and thus respond. They are in touch with their humanity. A deep commitment to the old deadly world means being present or available for the new world that will replace chaos, inequity and death with life and newness. According to the gospel, the rich, well-fed, happy or popular are less likely to respond to this life-changing opportunity because they have been insulated and isolated from much pain and suffering, and so miss the intensity of living fully into the risen life that God offers.
We hear the gospel today with different ears. It depends on where we sit. The poor will hear the offer of hope. The wealthy will hear a strong challenge to open their eyes. The ‘blessed’ are those who ‘weep’ over the suffering of others. They share God’s concern for the poor and the hungry. They believe that their bodies are how God will make a difference. They will understand that they are implicated by what Pope Francis said in in ‘Laudato Si’ (Care for Our Common Home’): ‘Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies’ (#5). When others’ suffering leads people to work for change, they begin to belong to the list of those who will be hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced on account of the Son of Man. No one effectively calls for conversion or protests injustice without paying the cost. They could face being pushed off the metaphorical cliff which Jesus faced.
The Spanish theologian, Jose A. Pagola (Following in the Footsteps of Jesus) says that we have not discovered the importance of poor people in Christian history. They help to see more clearly our own reality; they disturb our consciences and call us to conversion. They can help restructure a church of the future more in keeping with the gospels. With the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, it will be less possible for the church to meaningfully present itself whilst the weakest and most helpless people are ignored. Either we take people who are poor seriously or we forget the gospels. St Oscar Romero wrote: ‘The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being .. a defender of the rights of the poor [and] a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society ... that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.’ So, ‘when the church hears the cry of the oppressed, it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises. Do we hear that cry? What happens to our hearts? Do they burn when we see Jesus crying out to us in the poor? Jesus told the people that if they would really listen the world can change. But many would be against those changes. Those who promote this vision will be hated, accused, exiled, abused, denounced, and arrested as criminals, even killed. But the poor are blessed because they often first see the destructive path of faith in exclusion and exploitation. They recognise that the world that tramples on them will continue feeding off victims and trampling others. They are often the first to recognize that: Violence begets violence…Greed begets dissatisfaction … Exploitation begets destruction…
The poor are not only blessed but are a blessing to others. We have much to learn from solidarity movements among the poor and marginalised. As we think of the poor only in need of our help, the deeper truth is the reverse. They have come to each-other’s aid, and formed coalition not only to lift the burden of their own poverty, but to rebuild their communities, their nations, the world itself on a more solid foundation of solidarity and cooperation rather than enmity and exclusion.
We are called to listen and dedicate our energy and understanding to learning from those people whose perspective is from the underside of sacrifice. ‘Do this in memory of me’. ‘Remembering’ has nothing to do with nostalgia and not only loving the poor but defending them; pursuing justice for the crucified peoples of our world; and taking risks for peace and God’s reign. May we become a people of Christian hope who walk alongside those who are economically poor that we might realise the community or kin-dom of love that Martin Luther King Jr sought. May we enflesh what it truly is to be an egalitarian and just. May we become a people of Christian hope, who whilst feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable, and standing with the economically poor and afflicted - make space for the voices of the afflicted – those deemed to be voiceless - to emerge, to speak their truth, to be heard and heeded.
We need hope. To be hopeful is not being foolishly romantic. ‘It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of competition and cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness’ (Howard Zinn, US historian and peace activist).
God of life,
call us away from settling for anything less than life at its fullest.
God of justice,
forgive and challenge us,
bring us to right relationship with you and all those who suffer.
God of blessing,
here and now, inspire us to live lives
of healing, compassion and shalom.