SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Bad Fortune Depends on Good Fortune; Good Fortune Exists in Bad Fortune
First Reading: (Jer 17: 5 -8): Blessed are those who trust in the Lord
Second Reading: (1 Cor: 15: 12, 16-20): If Christ was not raised our faith is in vain
Gospel: (Lk 6: 17, 20- 16): True Blessings and True Woes
“Poor yes, but not insecure.”(1)
“The emperor could not have him for a minister nor the lords for friend.” (2)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry..." (Lk 6: 20-26)
One can say that of all Jesus' teachings the most important are the Beatitudes. They are an introduction to the entire 'Sermon on the Mount,' a summary of all that is contained in it. We usually call them the 'Eight Beatitudes.'
In Chapter five of Matthew's Gospel they are called the Eight Beatitudes, in Luke's Gospel there are only Four Beatitudes and'Four Woes.' Also, the words Matthew uses in speaking of the Beatitudes are full of 'spirit' or rather, have a 'spiritual' connotation, as 'poverty of spirit,' 'spiritual hunger,' 'suffering for the sake of justice,' etc. Luke however is very straightforward. He speaks outright of poverty, hunger, sorrow, hatred, rejection, curses.
Some Scripture scholars call Luke's gospel the Gospel of the poor, as if he wrote it especially for the poor. It is as if, intentionally or not, Luke was always addressing those who were actually poor and that he cared for the fate of poor people. From today's Gospel reading this view seems reasonable.
When we read today's gospel, Luke's four 'blessings' point to people who are truly suffering from hunger, people who are really poor with nothing at all, those who are truly hungry from lack of sufficient food, those whose lives are filled with sorrow, or people who are persecuted by the rich and powerful because they follow Christ or adhere to their ideals. Jesus thinks such unfortunate people are blessed. The four kinds of people who are the opposite from them are really the ones 'full of woe', that is, the rich, the satisfied, those who are too jubilant or are praised by others. How different from the viewpoint of worldly persons is Jesus' viewpoint of who are truly blessed and who are full of woe. It is like the distance between heaven and earth, or between peoples' different social standings.
As Christians we not only must believe and be baptized. Besides that we must be converted completely, that is, commit ourselves entirely to Christ.
Paul wrote about what should be a result of our faith in Christ and our Baptism:“We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4)
This newness of life must include new consideration, a real change in how we think. True Christians must live like Christ, think like Christ, and take the spirit, ideals and values of the Gospel as their criterion and norm of life.
Today's Gospel gives us an insight into what this new thinking might be. Those who feel they have deficiencies are blessed; blessed also are those who are aware that their lives lack something, that they have nothing in themselves, that they have a great need for other people and for God. On the other hand, woe to those who are unaware of any inadequacy or who feel they have no need for anything or anyone else.
It seems that in living a Christian faith-life, those who have too many material possessions, too great wealth or too comfortable a life, will find it more difficult to be in contact with God. Their lives seem somewhat separated from their faith.
When the Israelites' lives were without trouble, they easily forgot God or turned against God. Only when God punished them and they underwent vicissitudes did they repent and turn back to God. Throughout the whole Old Testament and the entire history of the Jews, there was this continuous convolution: life without trouble, revolt against God, punishment, calamity, contrition, life without trouble...
Is it not true that only when we are in the midst of adversity do we 'quickly grasp the feet of God' and start to pray? Or only when we undergo suffering or difficulties do we turn again to our faith ?
Is not the crisis in religious vocations today due in part to urbanization and people seeking a higher standard of living? There are many religious vocations in Mainland China. Most of the young men and women come from comparatively poor rural areas. The large prosperous cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan are similar to Hong Kong, they no longer have vocations.
Zhuang Zi was very poor but when he stood before the emperor he was neither ashamed nor embarrassed. When he said, “Poor yes, but not insecure,”(1) he was so confident and impressive. In the same way, the poor Zeng Zi spent his days singing in the loudest possible voice, in a tone so clear it was like gold and jade, “The Emperor could not have him for a minister, nor the lords for friend.”(2) He had no worries, he was so happy and carefree.
Actually, abundance of material possessions, wealth and a comfortable life are not problems. They are really God's blessings and are good. The problem is that we so easily make these material things our 'god,' our 'idol.' We look on them as the end-all and be-all of life, the only things worth struggling for in life. These material possessions can easily prevent us from keeping our eyesight on the gaze of God.
Spiritual poverty provides us with a space to live in. There it is easier for us to be filled with God. Therefore, blessed are the poor in spirit because the kingdom of God is theirs. God Himself is theirs.