SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Psalms 1:1-4, 6
1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17, 20-26
Someone once asked St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Why do you spend so much energy on the poor, the hungry, and the weeping of Calcutta?” Mother Teresa responded, “Jesus says the poor are the blessed ones. I take him at his word. I treat them as the royalty of God’s kingdom, because they are.”
Mother Teresa did not come to that conclusion because the cultural inclinations of her day compelled her to see the poor and destitute as blessed. Our present culture, like the Middle Eastern culture represented in today’s readings from Scripture, largely views poverty and sickness as curses, the result of some previous sinfulness. There is little blessing to be found in being poor or ill, but Jesus wanted to change the way people looked at the poor and the oppressed. He wanted to give us a new perspective which would cause us to see things in the way that God sees them. In God’s kingdom the poor, the hungry, the hopeless, the damaged, are blessed, and those whose only salvation is found in the God who comes to redeem are exalted. The Canticle of Mary at the beginning of Luke’s gospel highlights the new perspective of those who will follow in the footsteps of Jesus. They will worship a God who “scatters the proud in their conceit,” who “casts down the mighty from their thrones,” who “fills the hungry with good things,” who “lifts up the lowly,” and who “sends the rich away empty.”
The Beatitudes in today’s gospel passage from Luke give us some of the most radical teaching that Jesus ever gave. In Luke, Jesus teaches His disciples “on a stretch of level ground,” not on the mountaintop as in Matthew, and He speaks to a crowd who, not unlike ourselves, would be hard pressed to see blessing in poverty, hunger, weeping, and other people’s hatred. The Beatitudes are a corrective to the prevailing mentality in any age which pretends that true happiness can be found in money, food, laughter, or becoming famous. For Jesus, and for Jeremiah and the Psalmist, real happiness can only be found in a right relationship with God and with the things of God. “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh,” says Jeremiah (17:5). The very first psalm in the Bible speaks of a right relationship with God and where to find true happiness:
“Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
Nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the Lord
And meditates on his law day and night.
He is like a tree planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
And whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does, prospers.”
During His entire earthly ministry Jesus teaches that real happiness can only be found by trusting in God and following God’s way. Further, Jesus doesn’t just teach His disciples about where true happiness lies, He models it in His life. Jesus shows us that happiness is to be found in rubbing shoulders with the beggars, in the healing of the sick, and in the lifting up of those who are oppressed. The embrace of Jesus is not just for saints, for it gathers together sinners, unbelievers, and those who stand on the fringe of society.
Happiness is not impossible in this world, it is just not to be found solely in the things of this world. For Jesus our “reward will be great in heaven.” By remaining close to God and the things of God in this world we can find happiness, and, as Paul tells the Corinthians in our second reading, by believing in Christ’s resurrection from the dead we will find even greater happiness in the world yet to come. Scott Hahn referred to it as the “upside-down world” of the gospel: “in poverty we gain spiritual treasure unimaginable; in suffering and even dying on account of the Son of Man, we find everlasting life.” May we find true beatitude by living our lives in the way that Jesus taught us to live them, for in doing that we will truly become a blessing for others.