Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Luke 6:17-26 - link to NRSV text
If you haven't seen this sermon of mine on Matthew's version of the Beatitudes, please do. (This sermon of mine on Luke's version is far weaker, I'm sorry to say, but may still be helpful -- especially when supplemented by this lectionary blog entry on Luke's "Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man," which I connect directly to Luke's Beatitudes and woes.)
I'm not going to soft-pedal: these are hard readings we've got this Sunday -- at least for people like me.
By "people like me," I mean the comfortable, the privileged, those who are among the richest people in the world.
And I am among the richest people in the world. I doubt that I'll be appearing on any television profiles to that effect, but it's true. If you make an annual income of $47,500, you are in the top 1% of wage earners worldwide. I'm not in that number, but even though I'm employed only part-time as a consultant while being a seminary student (with all the expenses that entails), I'm comfortably within the top 10% of the wealthiest in the world. If you're curious about where you fall, go to the Global Rich List to find out.
So yes, I'm among the world's richest people, and for that reason, when I read, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation," that's enough to give me pause. I want to experience God's blessings. I've known enough of what that's like to know that God's blessings are far richer and bring far more joy, peace, love, and other qualities I value than any amount of wealth can. And like just about any churchgoer of the wealthy West who hasn't been anesthetized completely against the power of these words, I bristle when I hear Jesus saying them. So what news in this passage is Good News for me?
For starters, God's Good News for the poor is good news for me if I am aligned with the poor. And who are the poor? Let's not fall into that common trap of allegorizing biblical texts into easily swallowed but flavorless mush and say that "the poor" are people with a certain attitude -- say, people who acknowledge (at the very least in church on Sunday) that they need God, or that all good things on earth are God's gifts. That's not what the word means.
The word is ptochoi -- not just "people who are poor," or "those who are poorer than average," but "people who are destitute" -- those who don't have a home, basic shelter, clean water, basic nourishment. As I've preached about before, a lot of those who chose to follow Jesus in the first century ended up in that position specifically because of their decision to be Jesus' disciple. What Jesus taught -- about who your family is (hint: it's not "people whom I marry or are related to genetically and/or legally"; Jesus is not big on those kinds of "family values"), about responsibility (i.e., he called upon women and men alike to make decisions not only about whether to follow him, but about a whole complex of related decisions -- and he never suggested that they needed anyone's permission, let alone the family patriarch's, to decide or act), about most of the things that order-loving and family-oriented Romans and most of the other cultures the Romans dominated around the Mediterranean basin had in common. Parents, husbands, even adult children were sometimes disgusted and publicly shamed by the decisions of their Christ-following relations, who were now associating freely with women and men, slaves and free persons, rich and poor, clean and unclean, respectable and shameless. And in many cases, these humiliated relatives would throw the Christian out, leaving her or him with no livelihood, no family, no way to survive apart from Christian community or the charity of passers-by.
And yet, Jesus and Jesus' followers are bold or crazy enough to proclaim Jesus' counter-cultural invitation as Good News. That made little sense to most people in the first century -- and I dare say that Jesus' invitation may be just as counter-intuitive and is certainly as counter-cultural now.
If I'm on the Global Rich List -- and especially if I'm someone, well, like me, who's among the wealthiest on a global scale but hardly what the most successful in the U.S. would call financially secure -- why would I want to broaden the scope of my concern beyond me and my family, or, if I'm particularly generous, my community?
Please do look at what I've said before on this, because I believe more than ever that it's true:
The short answer to the question of why I should want to align myself with God's poor, even if it costs me personally, is because God, having made us human beings, really knows what we need -- what will give us joy, peace, love, and all of those things that politicians tell us we'll get if we support them, marketers tell us we can have if we buy the right products, magazines tell us we could experience if only we knew the Ten Secrets To Pleasing Her/Him or that one dieting tip that will give us a body that someone could want and love. God knows that we need more than a plasma television, a sizable nest egg, a set of six-pack abs, some icon of success or respectability.
God knows that we need a new Creation, and we need to be a part of it.
And the Good News -- the news so astonishingly good that we're often more likely to believe the politicians than the Savior who proclaimed the Good News -- is that what we need, the wholeness we ache for for ourselves and the wholeness we find in a world working actively and experiencing with increasing fullness the reconciliation that is God's mission in the world -- is being realized now.
Hebrew and Christian prophets have said as much in holy writ, but for those of us more inclined to believe what today's experts say, there's some real and hard evidence for it.
The ptochoi -- those who are destitute, without shelter, good water and good food, a means to make a living -- could have enough to get by as soon as the year 2015. It won't take a miracle; it will take enough of us with power and resources, enough of us from the Global Rich List partnering with and listening to wise activists among the poor, managing to get just 0.7% of the wealthiest nations' GNP targeted to aid those whom Jesus called "blessed" or "honored."
Have you ever tasted, seen, and felt what it's like to be among those whom Jesus honors? Honestly, I think I've only got the faintest of it, and even that is enough to convince me that following Jesus, being part of a community and a movement treating one another as God treats us, is more rewarding than any other path.
Think you're winning the rat race? If so, you've probably experienced what comedian Lily Tomlin so aptly observed: that winning the rat race just means you're a fast rat. We weren't made to be rats. We weren't made to compete for a single or rare prize of real love or "the good life," and I say so for at least two reasons: we're not rats, and there's not a limited prize. As I wrote about last week, those whose lives have shifted from being centered around the question of "can I get enough of the good stuff?" to "how can I gather enough people to take in all this good stuff God is providing," may pay a price in worldly terms for that shift, but they will gain something far better:
Freedom from anxiety.
Freedom from human lords.
Freedom to take in God's love.
Freedom to love others in community.
And the opportunity to participate as God's Good News is made real in the world.
Thanks be to God!
Enough with the 'Global Rich List' already...do you have any idea how often you offer that as a "resource"?
Posted by: H | Feb 10, 2007 9:09:59 PM
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