6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Preached at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Sedro-Woolley (5:00pm), without recording.
For most of us, Luke’s Beatitudes are an indication that Jesus cares about the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted, and that he has some problems with the rich, the filled, the laughing, and the popular. We quote the beatitudes to feel good in difficult times, to assuage our consciences about the inequalities of the world around us, or to inspire us to work for greater justice in the world.
But, upon a closer reading, they sort of look like the kind of vague promises a politician might make. Are you poor? I’m going to give you a Kingdom! Are you sad? Well not much longer! And we are going to take down the rich and the bullies, believe me!
And beyond that, we have absolutely zero proof that Jesus even kept his campaign promises. Sure, his followers have tried to take care of the poor and marginalized among them, but Jesus himself did absolutely nothing to fight the systems of poverty or injustice, and, in fact, let himself be killed by the very people he was criticizing. He was either an ineffectual prophet or a weak god.
My friends, as it turns out, the Beatitudes make no sense if we view them temporally. They only make sense if we view them eschatologically. In less theological language, that means that our Gospel becomes meaningless if we treat Jesus like a politician or activist, like someone who is focused on social programs and good feelings in the here and now. Instead, the logic of the Beatitudes only works when we view them through the lens of the Resurrection.
It is Saint Paul who makes this point most strongly in our second reading. He says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” Yikes! He is not pulling any punches. What does he mean?
He means that this world is broken and always will be. Every Christian can tell you that faith in Jesus Christ does not remove pain, suffering, illness, or broken relationships from one’s life, even as much as we think faith should. Though we may be able to cope with these things better, neither Jesus himself nor our belief in him seems to definitively remove evil from this world. And so what Saint Paul is telling us is that if our hope in Christ is purely a hope centered on this life and this broken world, we are going to be sorely disappointed. We are the most pitiable people of all.
Instead, Saint Paul says that everything in our faith only makes sense through the lens of Jesus’ Resurrection. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” he says. Why?
Because the Resurrection is what is new and special about Jesus. This world has seen plenty of prophets, plenty of kind-hearted individuals, plenty of charismatic preachers, plenty of social activists. But we have never once seen, outside of Jesus, a man defeat death. And that makes all the difference. Death is the great enemy. Poverty, hunger disease: all of these have power only because they threaten death. And sin, sadness, and suffering derive their power because they are all a form a death. When death is defeated, the power of all of these evils fades away. We no longer have to fear hunger or pain or sin, because Jesus neutralized the power of evil when he defeated death.
And this brings us back to the Beatitudes. The hope that we find in the Beatitudes does not derive from the idea that Jesus is somehow going to build a utopian kingdom here on Earth. That is a misplaced hope, a hope that Saint Paul refers to as “vain.” The hope of the Beatitudes, and of Christianity in general, is that all inequality and suffering will pass away at our resurrection from the dead, a resurrection promised to us because of our faith in Jesus Christ.
So why is it that the poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted are blessed while the rich, filled, laughing, and popular are cursed? Couldn’t… shouldn’t the Resurrection apply to all of us equally?
The issue here is that only Jesus has ever defeated death. Only Jesus has the power of victory and resurrection. So we share in his resurrection, only insofar as we unite ourselves to him.
Now, who is more likely to long for unity with and salvation from God? Is it the comfortable, who already have everything they need? Or is it the poor and marginalized, who feel beaten down by this world and long for something or someoneto save them?
The poor are blessed because they understand the hope offered by the resurrection, whereas the rich struggle because they are content with this world which is passing away.
The Church paired our first reading with this Gospel to make exactly this point: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” No reliance on God, not hope deriving from the Resurrection. Compared to: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.” Reliance on God leads to unity with him in his Resurrection, which is the ultimate source of hope.
Now, even though all Christian hope derives exclusively from the Resurrection, our faith also has a two-millennia-strong tradition of working for justice in the world. So how do we avoid the temptation to focus exclusively on life after death, without putting our hope in worldly things?
First, we have to remember that the Resurrection of Jesus has power in our lives even before our death. Jesus conquered the power of sin and death for all time, including our own times here in a world marked by pain, sin, and suffering. These evils do not go away, but if we remain united to Jesus, we do not have to fear these evils because, in the victory of the Resurrection, death and its minions no longer have any power over us.
Second, we have to remember that our works of social justice, just like our acts of evangelization, are expressions our faith, not our faith itself. At its very core, Christianity is belief in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Without this belief, works of social justice will ultimately be without hope, because they will remain the works of men. They will have no actual power to conquer the evils they set out to address, because it is only Jesus who has power over sin and death. But with belief in the Resurrection, works of social justice can be fearless, because their hope remains in Christ; and no enemy can defeat the power of Christ, not even death itself.
My friends, regardless of our socio-economic status, each of us is, in some way, poor, hungry, sad, or persecuted. As much as we naturally want to run from these dark places in our lives, today I am asking us to embrace them. Embrace them because it is in these please that we most need Jesus Christ. And that need for Jesus will lead us to long for the Resurrection, which is the source of all our hope.
No hay Español esta semana.
Resurrection by El Greco (here).