Homily: 17 February: 6th Sunday in Ordinary time
Sunday 17 February 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comesoli
St Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is quite different from those of Matthew, the ones we more commonly hear. Unlike Matthew who wrote his gospel for Jewish Christians, Luke was writing to gentile converts – many of whom were slaves, or foreigners or low born. Becoming followers of Christ had only exacerbated their situation. So, for them to hear ‘blessed are the poor’, without the ‘in spirit’ added, was to hear from God a powerful word of support and encouragement.
Our English word for ‘poor’ suggests economic struggle. But in Luke’s sense, the poor are the ‘afflicted ones’ or, more specifically, the ‘powerless.’ In his gospel, the poor stand in contrast to those who, though not necessarily materially rich, were so ‘full of themselves’ and so smug about salvation that they effectively closed themselves off to the free gift of the Kingdom. For Luke, those of whom Jesus said ‘Woe to you’ had sought their satisfaction in the ways and means of the world.
For Jesus, God’s salvation was for those who were experiencing a sense of helplessness in their lives, and who were ready to turn humbly to God who would be more than willing to give them His Kingdom.
On this weekend following St. Valentine's Day, we might reasonably argue that those seeking to walk in a Christian way of marriage and family life have become a contemporary example of the blessed poor. Consider this. Our legal understanding of marriage is no longer between a man and a woman; it is no longer until death; it is no longer to the exclusion of all others; it is no longer for procreation. If marriage is no longer ‘for’ any of these, then what is marriage for?
It is striking how our contemporary cultural sensitivities have so reduced the richness of marriage, that it is now devoid of any meaning. When we stop being committed to something, we will tend to believe in anything, which will simply reduce it to nothing.
You don’t need me to remind you that Christian marriage and family life are clearly under pressure – and sometimes attack – in our society. As we all know, the days when most people were raised in large families have past. Typically, families now comprise of one or two children as parents struggle with social demands and cultural pressures. Yet there are couples who have chosen to have three or four or more children – and who have made the challenging economic decisions that go with that. Are not families in these circumstances fulfilling the words of Jesus in quite remarkable ways: Blessed are you who are poor?
So, blessed are you who are poor for simply valuing marriage and family life in ways that delight God and dignify our humanity. For sure, living this beatitude requires courage, perseverance and especially trust in God, given the pressures to conform to a worldly attitude that says small is better, and large is selfish. But it is also a beatitude that is possible to live and gives witness to a pathway of hope for others. So, blessed are you who might seem to be poor in the values presented by society, for you are already rich in the blessings of Christ.