6th Sunday of Year B (2019)
Forty Martyrs'; St Bede's
Most people, I suspect, are unaware that Luke has a set of Beatitudes, except when we reach the sixth Sunday of Year C, which sometimes we never do because Lent gets in the way. We are much more familiar with the eight Blessings in chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel, which opens the Sermon on the Mount. Luke cuts the number in half and then supplements them with four 'woes'. He wants to emphasise that Jesus, not only raises up the lowly and fills the starving with good things, but that he also casts the mighty from their thrones and sends the rich away empty. These lines from Mary's Magnificat strike the tone for the whole Gospel; a theme Luke will not tire of repeating in different forms throughout the Gospel. Think of the fate of the rich man who has a bumper harvest and who builds bigger barns to store his produce. He plans to eat, drink and be merry but God has other ideas and that very night the man dies. His riches go elsewhere as he goes to God empty handed, and un-filled. Later we will hear the story of Lazarus, the poor man who is licked by dogs as he lies at the gate of the rich man who feats magnificently everyday and has the finest silk undies. He goes to eternal torment with not even a drop of Perrier to cool his tongue, while Lazarus rests in Abraham's bosom.
Jesus and Luke are being consistent to an Old Testament theme: that God looks after his poor. Poor here does not only mean those who have little or nothing to live on. It also includes those who have no voice, like a widow who has no son; those who fail to get justice in a world of kick-backs and corruption; those who stand apart from the crowd and seek justice when the powerful rich have an interest in ensuring justice never prevails. The Hebrew word for such people is 'anawin' – the poor of Yahweh. And what characterises them in not merely their variety of poverty, but, more significantly, they trust in God. Despite their miserable circumstances they know that God is faithful and loving, and will look after them.
Jesus himself lived a life of such poverty. Dependent on the generosity of his female followers; crying out for justice, and finally stretching his arms on the cross entrusting himself to his heavenly Father, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit.”
It is important to note that it is the entrusting of oneself to God whatever the circumstances that is the virtue, not the poverty. As the great Brazilian Archbishop Helda Camera said, “Saints may be found in slums, but one must not retain slums in order to have a breeding ground for saints.”
Poverty may bring out heroic qualities in some, but it is the cause of great evil as well. We have to work to alleviate poverty even though it can be the seed bed of virtue.
Those who are true followers of Christ will experience forms of poverty, even if they have a healthy bank balance; will hunger, though they never want for a meal, will mourn even when they have not lost a loved one themselves and will be reviled because the if we live the Gospel we will have set ourselves against the values of the world which many people live by, and will not countenance criticism of their choices.
Paul in the second reading continues to speak about the truth of Jesus' Resurrection. Many people in the Western World have dismissed God and any thought of an after life. In an horrific statistic recently we learnt that a significant number of young people question the value of life itself. The numbers of young people with mental health issues rises, and the the number of your male suicides is desperate. Somewhere we have taken a very wrong turn. When we decide that there is no ultimate purpose in life, when we think that this world is all that there is and when we die – extinction, then meaning has also gone. If we think happiness is all that matters, and happiness is equated with 'a good time' we will be unable to cope with unhappiness which is certainly going to afflict us.
Paul points out, “If there is no Resurrection, then we are the most wretched people”; we might paraphrase, 'those who have no sense in anything beyond this life, are going to be wretched in this life.'
Paul goes on, “But Jesus is risen.” There is purpose and point in life. God made us, in the hallowed words of the penny catechism, “to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him for ever in the next”. Life has a point, a purpose and thus a huge value.
As our first reading and psalm pointed out, we have choices. To be life-affirming as people of Resurrection hope is our choice.