Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Christ Is All and In All

If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. Colossians 3:1-2

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.
Luke 6:20-22

God of the prophets,
God of Christ:
we are reminded today
that your blessings do not necessarily follow the logic of the world.
The world believes that the rich are blessed,
but Jesus reminds us that it is the poor who are blessed,
the poor in spirit
and the materially poor as well.
We pray for a more just world
in which all have enough and none are left behind.

Luke’s social-justice oriented gospel gives us an interesting take on the Beatitudes. Right after Luke presents to us the four “blessed” statements, we get an equal and opposite warning in the four “woe” statements. If this, then that. If not this, then THAT!

Luke connects each of the blessings to external conditions of poverty and suffering. It is easy to equate how these statements flow directly out of the Nazareth Manifesto. Luke assigns a decidedly materialistic tone to Jesus’ preaching. This is in contrast to how Matthew assigns the blessings to more spiritual conditions. Matthew changes "the poor" into "the poor in spirit," and those that "hunger" into those that "hunger and thirst after righteousness." 

Let’s also not lose sight of Jesus and his posture when delivering this message: “Raising his eyes.” Paul’s letter admonished all to seek what is above and turn away from the baser and lower human instincts. No one who hears this sermon would be surprised later to hear Jesus’ advice to the rich young man to give away everything.

As familiar as the words [of the Beatitudes] are to Christians and non-Christians alike, there is one word in particular that can very easily go unnoticed: “is.” In verses 21-23, every blessing promises a future reward for a present circumstance. Consider the first half of verse 21: “Blessed are ye that hunger now; for you shall be filled.” This indicates that those who experience hunger during their earthly time will be filled in the eschaton. The first beatitude (verse 20), however, seems to deliberately use the word “is”: “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”[i]

Why does poverty bring with it such immediate blessing? What is it about poverty that is so authentically human?

Scholars first make a critical distinction between poverty and destitution. According to J. Jacob Tawney, writing in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (May 2013), all human beings are entitled to have their basic needs met. The fact that millions are living in our world in the state of destitution, where hunger and disease ravage entire cultures, is a great sin against humanity, and it cannot be ignored that Christ was relentless in his call for a preferential option for the poor.

Tawney explains that “every time we withhold our cloak from the naked or our food from the hungry, we perform sin, not only against the human person but also against Jesus himself.” Tawney goes on to explain:

Poverty, on the other hand, is not identical with destitution. The Latin word used in the Vulgate is pauperes. It is true that this is best translated as “poverty,” but what is perhaps more noticeable is that the Gospel does not use the word egenus or the word inops, both of which could be translated as destitute (though inops is more often rendered as “helpless”). Nor did the author use a form of the verb destituo forsaken).[ii]

Poverty (pauperes), Tawney argues, as opposed to destitution, is the state of having only what one needs. It is this state of simplicity that Christ calls “blessed” and to which he attaches the promise of the kingdom of heaven. Riches do not get in the way of the mission. Seeking what is above rather than the riches of materialistic life delivers us into the Kingdom of God here and now.

Kidnappers freed an Indian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped after gunmen attacked a retirement home for the elderly in Yemen's southern port city of Aden in March 2016.  He has been freed and flown to Oman.  The Sultanate of Oman said in a statement that it had helped to find and rescue the kidnapped priest, whom it called a Vatican employee.

According to a story in America magazine by Gerard O’Connell, four terrorists kidnapped Salesian Fr. Uzhunnalil in March 2016 by posing as relatives of one of the residents, burst into a retirement home for the elderly run the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The attackers killed 16 persons including four Indian sisters of that religious order, and eight elderly residents of the home.

Pope Francis mourned the murder of the nuns and other victims.  He hailed these sisters who were caring for the elderly in this war-torn region as “the martyrs of our day” and said, “they were killed by their attackers, but also by the globalization of indifference.”

Today’s readings awaken us from the slumber of apathy and urge us to reach out as peacemakers and healers.  Despite the dark days when many thought Fr. Uzhunnalil might be crucified on Good Friday by his kidnappers, they did not kill him but spared his life until a negotiated release could be arranged.

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