Homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
The words of the Gospel today are probably the closest Jesus comes to preaching fire and brimstone. They are very challenging words. He is not even addressing his enemies. He is addressing the disciples who have decided to follow him. His words still make us uneasy today.
His "woes" address those whose lives are limited to the present satisfaction. We are content in our present lives. We are so rich. We have worked hard indeed to get where we are. But we cannot rest there as if that is all there is. He blesses the poor, the hungry, the mourners, the rejected, because they are not content with how things are. They hope for a better time and place. They are open to Jesus and the Kingdom.
The poor in the ancient Middle East are not so much the economic poor as we understand. It refers more to their social standing. Power gave wealth. Whereas for us, wealth brings power. Blessed are you, he says, who are at the mercy of people like Herod, Pilate, or the Temple priests, who kept them economically poor. Woe to those who are powerful enough to decide the fate of ordinary people who have no right of appeal. There is no honour but only shame for these poor. Jesus is saying that God alone is the arbiter of true honour.
Such words, of course, meet with opposition from those whose hopes are in keeping the statis quo. It is easy to see how Jesus words could ring alarm bells in the authorities who came to see him as a threat to religious and civil authority. And some like the Zealots, a revolutionary group, one of whom was a disciple, certainly were attracted to him expecting him to lead a campaign against Rome.
Jesus' beatitudes in Lukes Gospel reflect the words of Jeremiah in our First Reading. While both make very strong statements about putting one's trust in the wrong place they are balanced by a great hope for those who trust God.
So not all ways of life are equally valid according to Jesus. There is only one way in which the disciple can walk. So we do struggle with our own use of our economic wealth. We want to be generous with those who have little. We want to live the Gospel as best we can. We also do not want to be destitute ourselves. And Jesus certainly does not want us to be poor. He is not putting poverty before us as a goal. But as long as our position in society is not used to keep other people at our mercy we are heading in the right direction. As long as we are accepting everything as gift of which we are the stewards then we need not be too afraid of misusing what we have been given.
We celebrate in the Eucharist Jesus who emptied himself and became as we are that we might have life. We are baptised into that kind of life. That emptying is a lifetimes task for us for which we are equipped by our partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.