Sunday of Week 6 of Ordinary Time (C)

Commentary on Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20; Luke 6: 17,20-26

“HOW HAPPY ARE YOU WHO ARE POOR… Alas for you who are rich…” Maybe in church this is very nice to hear but is it a practical teaching in the real world? The Gospel says that many people from many places came to hear Jesus preach. But these words, we are told, though clearly relevant to all were meant especially for Jesus’ disciples. Who are his disciples? They are those who have identified themselves fully with Jesus’ mission, with his vision of life. They are those who believe in him, who listen to him, and follow him.

What Jesus says in Luke’s gospel today is similar to Matthew’s eight beatitudes. When we first hear them they seem like a contradiction: the poor are happy; the rich are to be condemned. Does not the Church always condemn the world’s poverty? And our societies always say that to make a lot of money is the sure sign of a successful life.

A matter of the Kingdom

If we want to understand Jesus’ words we need to know he is speaking of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is the society that Jesus wants to establish and not just in some future life. (Matthew’s term ‘kingdom of heaven’ can be misleading in this context.)

When Jesus was beginning his public life, he announced his mission in the synagogue at Nazareth:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
– Luke 4:18-19

In the Kingdom, for the poor and the hungry there is only good news, because they enter a society which will protect and care for them. We have still a long way to go in making that Kingdom a reality.

Why so hard on the rich?

On the other hand, it is woe to the rich. Why? Perhaps the answer is in the First Reading (from Jeremiah):

A curse on the those who puts their trust in other people,
who rely on things of flesh,
whose heart turns from the Lord.

The rich sometimes feel they are very independent, that they can use their money to control and manipulate others. They do not need God. If they pray, it is to ask him to help them earn even more money, or to protect the riches they have amassed, or even to console a lonely God. (Remember the Pharisee praying the Temple: “Thank God I am not like the rest of men.”)

On the contrary, Jeremiah says today:

A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord,
with the Lord for his hope.
He is like a tree by the water’s edge
that thrusts its roots to the stream:
when the heat comes it feels no alarm,
its foliage stays green;
it has no worries in a year of drought,
and never ceases to bear fruit.

Neither rich nor poor

In fact, in the Kingdom, there is really no place for either rich or poor. To be a rich person means I have more than others, more than I need and some of what I have belongs to those in need. To be poor means I do not have enough to eat or wear; I do not have a place to live and in general my life is lacking in proper human dignity. In the Kingdom, there can be no rich or poor in this sense. Because those who have more will share with those who do not have enough.

It is not just a question of “charity” but one of justice, each one having what is properly due to him. In ‘charity’ I give what I can easily spare; in justice I share what I have. It is not just a matter of pity for the poor but of seeing them as truly brothers and sisters and sharing with them.

The bottom line is not poverty or wealth but where we put our security. That is the meaning of the First Reading. Do I put my security in what I have or in an interdependent community where each supports the other and thus all are taken care of? This is the ideal, the vision of the Kingdom, it is the mission of the Church. It is the responsibility of every disciple of Jesus.

If we can implement this, everyone will be able to enjoy the happiness of the Kingdom – not only in some future life but in this world, in this society.

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