Homily for 17 February
Blessed or happy are you who are poor. I have glimpsed and lived amongst poverty which is hard to imagine in the West, but I have done it from a position of privilege. As a seminarian in Adelaide, I went with a a priest and two other seminarians to spend ten weeks in Calcutta. It was confronting…. In the midst of the poverty there were Christians serving the poorest of the poor; there were generous, faith-filled men and women being a blessing to those in need.
On our way back home we stopped in Singapore which is wealthy and orderly. I was struck by the glum faces.
I am not saying that poverty is a happy state. Jesus never taught that poverty is a happy state. The poor in Calcutta lived from day to day, but they would gladly have accepted the education, the bit more which comes from resources. There is nothing romantic about poverty.
In the Graeco-Roman world in which the disciples of Jesus moved, what happened to you, happened to you because fate decreed it. But that was not Jesus’ teaching: He did not proclaim that the poor, the suffering are poor or suffering because fate or God willed it. He proclaimed God, the God he enfleshed, who turns the world upside down. In the words of the Magnificat, ‘he casts down the mighty from their seats and raises up the lowly’. Jesus is God’s great ‘yes’ to all humanity, but precisely because Jesus is his ‘yes’ to all humanity, he is on the side of the poor, the widowed, the orphan, the stranger. While there is poverty, oppression, exclusion humanity is diminished, all of us are diminished.
So the poor, the hungry, those who weep are blessed because God’s Kingdom is coming and the Kingdom is their liberation. The Kingdom is glimpsed in Jesus and his work; the Kingdom continues to be glimpsed in the church when she is there with and serving the poor, the outcast, those who grieve, the hungry, the refugee.
When we mourn, the Kingdom is hope for us, in the Kingdom every tear will be wiped away in God’s embrace. But though in the main we are not poor or hungry, the beatitudes can still speak to us because they proclaim the future that God is bringing about. They free us from clinging to our possessions, from the things of this world for happiness and meaning. They teach us to trust in the Lord with our hearts set on his Kingdom. They free us to try to work out how to be on the side of the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the weak. I know a family with high-school aged girls and every time the girls come into the city, they make a sandwich and drink pack to give to the homeless they meet. A small gesture which does not solve hunger or complex social ills, but they are thinking of more than themselves and I glimpse the Kingdom in their thoughtfulness, their generosity of heart.
We see the Kingdom in Jesus. We glimpse its victory in his resurrection. The disciple is the one who is free enough to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and his Kingdom which ‘fills the hungry with good things, sends the rich away empty’; the one who seeks here and now to be a blessing to the poor, the hungry, those who weep and so find a place in the feast of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.