Year C: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Blessed are the poor. Woe to you who are rich
Luke 6:17, 20-26
And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he 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. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
- Regardless of where you might be financially, in what other ways would you consider yourself to be wealthy and have abundance?
- How can an over attachment to our various forms of wealth be a detriment rather than a blessing to our spiritual journey?
- If you take a stance for justice in your church or community, what issue would you want to address? What might be the ramifications of your taking action?
- In what ways might wealth blind you from areas where you need God’s Mercy?
- How does this reflection by Fr. Marsh, challenge, expand or affirm your understanding of the Kingdom or Reign of God?
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Luke 6: 17, 20-26
Many people identify today’s reading as a version of “The Sermon on the Mount.” In reality, only the Gospel of Matthew (5-7) presents it as a discourse on a mountain. In contrast with Matthew’s presentation, Luke sets the stage by having Jesus come down from the mountain where he had been praying before naming the Twelve who would be called apostles. When they came to the level ground where a crowd awaited him, Jesus addressed his disciples with the words we hear in today’s Gospel.
Beginning with his blunt, “Blessed are you who are poor,” Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ blessings and curses is much more direct than Matthew’s seemingly gentler, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus’ word for “poor” (ptochos) referred to people who were bowed down or cowering like beggars. It was the same word Jesus used to describe Lazarus, the poor man who crouched near the gate of a wealthy man who never noticed him. (Luke 16:20.)
To many in Israel, poverty was a curse, a sign of God’s disfavor. Humanly, it is difficult to believe in the blessedness of the poor. Rather than rejoice in Psalm 34 which says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, we are more comfortable with Psalm 1 which declares that those who love God are like trees planted near streams that yield their fruit and whose leaves never wither. We want to believe that the good prosper and therefore that prosperity is a sign of goodness in God’s sight. But that is not what Jesus taught, neither in this homily nor by the example of his life.
Luke makes it very clear that the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the rejected are particularly blessed in God’s eyes, while those who have more than they need and think their affluence gives them the security to laugh at tomorrow are the ones to be pitied. Jesus’ message is scathingly direct: He says “you” to both the poor and the rich, the hungry and the satiated, those who weep about the conditions of their world and those who enjoy them.
What are we to do as we hear this message? We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Those among us who are well-educated or trained for work and who have strong connections cannot ever be poor like people whose income hovers under $5 per day. Nor would an increase in such poverty be a good thing.
If we really desire the blessings Jesus promises in this selection, it seems that our only entry point is by being among those who weep. Luke mentions weeping at least three times as often as does any other evangelist. In addition to the Beatitudes, Luke portrays people weeping over death (7:13, 8:52); he shows Peter weeping after denying Jesus (22:62); and he mentions the weeping of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet (7:38). Most uniquely, Luke tells us that Jesus himself wept over the city of Jerusalem, the city that was about to demand his death. (19:41) Luke portrays holy tears as the response to conversion, death, betrayal and hardness of heart.
In the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis explains the woe of a world without weeping. Elaborating on Jesus’ words, Francis warns us, “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own” (#54).
Because of our privilege, most of us will never be truly poor or hungry. But there are very few among us who are incapable of compassion, the openness to others that makes us vulnerable to their pain. If we wish to be among the blessed in Jesus’ reign of God, we must learn from and about the poor so that their hope becomes our own. Then, step by step, we will experience beatitude.
The How of Life
Fr Michael Marsh
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the ones who are weeping. But woe to the rich, the full, and the ones who are laughing.
Poverty over riches, hunger over fullness, and weeping over laughing. Are those the priories you have in your life today? Is that what you want for yourself? Your spouse and children? Your grandchildren? Is that the kind of life you are living today?
Let me just start by saying I don’t like those priorities. That’s not what I grew up believing. That’s not what I aspired to. That’s not how I want to live my life. And I am pretty sure that’s not the dream my parents had for me. It’s sure not the dream I have for Randy or had for Brandon. And I want more than that for Cyndy.
Jesus has a way of messing with our expectations of what really matters, our beliefs about how we should live, and our aspirations for the direction of our life. More often than not he reverses the usual expectations, beliefs, and aspirations. His view of what life, meaning, power, and success look like – what we might call the Kingdom of God – is mostly at odds with the world’s view and sometimes our own. And if today’s gospel from Luke is a hard message to hear, it’s an even harder life to live.
It asks us some hard questions. It asks us to look at our life in light of Jesus’ blessings and woes. What do the reversals in today’s gospel bring up for you? In what ways do they challenge or contradict:
- Where you find meaning
- Your aspirations and how they are shaping your life; and
- How, not what, but how you want to be in the world and in relationship to others?
It would be easy to hear the blessings and woes in today’s gospel as rewards and punishments or a categorization of saints and sinners, but that would be a mistake and a misunderstanding of the gospel. There is nothing inherently virtuous or holy about poverty, hunger, or grief. God knows the world doesn’t need more pain or misery. And there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about being rich, full, or laughing.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about what or how much we have or don’t have. It’s not about a bottom-line calculation of our bank balance, the number of meals or calories we get each day, or whether we spend more time crying than laughing. Jesus is talking about a quality not a quantity.
He is talking about how we are in the world, not what we are, but how we are. And I know from my own life that when I am poor, hungry, weeping, whether materially, emotionally, or spiritually, I am more open and receptive. I am looking for something new, a different way of being in the world. But when I am rich, full, and laughing, whether materially, emotionally, or spiritually, I mostly want more of the same. I am not looking for anything new or different. I work to defend and keep the status quo.
The “what” of our life can too easily determine or corrupt the “how” of our life. Maybe the blessings and woes are descriptive of two different how’s of life. One in which our hearts, hopes, and aspirations are turned toward the coming of something new, something different. We are open to the future, to one another, to the possibility of what seems impossible. And where there is a future there is life, and more life. The other way of being in the world, the other how, is closed to the future, to each other, to something new or different. We are self-enclosed and self-sufficient. We are bound to the world as it is. It has become our treasure.
What if we were to think of blessings and woes as guardrails on the road of life? What if they are like those bumpers kids sometimes use at the bowling alley? What if they are guides to making the kingdom present?
Do you remember the hot and cold game? Maybe you played it as a kid or maybe you’ve played it with your own children or grandchildren. Someone picks an object in the room but doesn’t identify it to the other players. The other players move about searching for the object and are told “You’re warm. Yes, you’re getting warmer. Oh, now you’re cold. You’re ice cold.” It’s a way of telling the players if they are close to, or far from the object. What if blessings and woes are Jesus saying we are either warm or cold toward the kingdom, getting close to or moving away from it?
You see the kingdom is not a what. It is a how. It is not a place or a time or a thing, but a way of being in this world. You and I give existence to the kingdom by the how of our being in the world. The kingdom is God’s dream, hope, desire, and longing for the world. It is God’s call to us. And it is up to us to respond and make it present. And sometimes we do.
From time to time the kingdom actually happens through our “how” of being in the world. That’s what we remember and celebrate today, the Feast of All Saints. We remember and give thanks for those people whose how of life gave existence to God’s kingdom and life in this world in their time and place. They are witnesses that we too can give existence to the kingdom, to God’s how of being, in our life, time, place, and circumstances.
Some of those people are name brand saints, the ones who have a place on the calendar. Philip, Mary, Luke, Augustine, Theresa, Francis, and Clare. Others are local and particular to us, known only to us. They are not on the church’s calendar and their only place is in our heart. I think of my grandmother, my great uncle, my best friends John and David, my spiritual directors Fr. Kelly and Sr. Marie.
Some have died. Others still live. All stand with and companion us as teachers, examples, and guides. They have cared for and nurtured us, loved, and guided us, taught, and mentored us. They showed us a “how” of being that was vibrant and alive, holy, and earthy.
The kingdom comes locally, temporarily, intermittently, episodically in our particular circumstances through our “how” of being in the world. It mostly happens on the margins of power, at the edges, and rarely at the center. It is the reversal of all reversals. The kingdom comes, is actually here, is really real, whenever we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek to those who strike us, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive our offender, give to the beggar.
Every time we do to others as we would have them do to us, we give existence to the kingdom.
Have you ever thought of yourself as having the privilege and responsibility of giving existence to the kingdom? Have you ever thought that God might need you as much as you need God? Have you ever thought of yourself as a saint, as one whose “how” of life matters, and makes a difference to others and to the world?
What if we were to step into the “how” of sainthood in our particular time and place, in the unique circumstances of our life, in our daily relationships? What would that look like in your life today? In what ways might it change or reshape the “how” of your life?
Reflection excerpt from, Interrupting the Silence, https://interruptingthesilence.com
Fr. Michael K. Marsh