Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
February 17, 2019
1st Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-8
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20
Gospel: Luke 6: 17, 20-26
Blessed are you when people respect you and admire your achievements. Blessed are you when your name carries a title: CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CBO, president, senator, congressman, judge, Cardinal, Archbishop or doctor. Blessed are you when you get the home of your dreams and people are impressed by the car you drive. Blessed are you when you become a millionaire. Blessed are you when you appear on T.V. or become an expert. Blessed are you when you have smart children who get accepted into Yale, Harvard, or Stanford.
The problem with the above—which is the American dream—is that it’s really a dream of the ego. It’s what I can achieve, what I have accomplished, how I want to live my life. It’s about human control. Remember that famous song of Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way.” Well, that’s the whole problem: I did it my way!
Listen to the Prophet Jeremiah: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings. Listen to Jesus who says, “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are filled now, woe to you who laugh now, woe to you when all speak well of you.” With all due respect to Jesus, it seems downright un-American.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ Great Sermon is not meant for the whole world in general but for those who have decided to follow Christ. They are meant for people who are mature, committed disciples.
Jeremiah goes on to say, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” Jesus is saying that trust in human beings is the attitude of the rich, but trust in the Lord is the attitude of those who are poor and hungry, who weep and are hated, ostracized and reviled.”
Jesus in Luke’s gospel is on the side of the poor. Luke doesn’t soften or add modifiers to the Beatitudes, as St. Mathew does, who wrote, “Blessed are the poor ‘in spirit.’” St. Luke just writes: “Blessed are the poor.” St. Luke writes bluntly of people who are homeless, underprivileged, broke even broken. The beggar Lazarus is easily recalled. This poor, homeless, diseased individual is welcomed to Abraham’s bosom while his well-off neighbor perishes. For Luke, Jesus’ primary concern was for the poor and for any disadvantaged person on the periphery of society.
Jesus himself lived poor and learned to rely on God alone. The ultimate sign of his poverty was to have his clothing raffled off at the foot of the Cross. He didn’t have a loin cloth as we see on this crucifix. He died naked and humiliated. God’s ultimate poverty is Jesus nailed to a cross. In Christ, God embraces the most extreme form of human poverty: God is nailed to a tree and cannot even move. There you see what love is!
Blessed are we when we face our human poverty and the most extreme human limitation. Jesus Christ has to turn our ego’s way of thinking on its head. Blessed are you when you face anxiety or depression. Blessed are you when you mourn a loved one. Blessed are you when you have failed or sinned greatly. Blessed are you when your marriage fell apart. Blessed are you when you lost a job. As one wise person once put it: human weakness is God’s opportunity.
This is a tough gospel intended for Christ’s true disciples. For those willing to go the extra mile, he says, “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.” Have you ever leapt for joy when someone insulted you? Just to be a Catholic today in our country is to be discounted and despised by many. What is this crazy way of thinking that turns the worst things in our life into our greatest blessings?
Let us take Jeremiah’s words to heart: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” It is a choice between the American dream, the ego power dream, or God’s dream for us. For you younger people, think of Harry Potter not keeping the Elder Wand, a wand more powerful than any other wand in the wizarding world. What riches insides him allowed him to give it up? Get in touch with that part of you!
Blessed are you when you wake up and realize that everything your heart desires is already yours. I know it’s true, only I keep seeking it in people, in things, in approval and in accomplishments. Why do we keep looking to the world for a drink when it will only get us drunk? It’s time to stop chasing rainbows.
And let us as individuals and as a parish, seek out the people who are rich in God’s eyes: the poor and the marginalized. As Dorothy Day also said, “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.”
Fr. Pat Neary, CSC