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Reflections for the VI Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the sixth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that true happiness lies in the awareness that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father.

Jer 17: 5-8; I Cor 15:12, 16-20; Lk 6:17, 20-26 

Introduction: Today’s readings teach us that true happiness, or beatitude, lies in the awareness that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father and that we will be  happy only when we share our blessings with our brothers and sisters in need and work  to uplift them, thus declaring our “option for the poor,” as Jesus did. Contrary to the popular belief, wealth, health, power and influence are not the source of true happiness. The word “beatitude” means “blessedness” in a double sense: both enjoying God’s favor and enjoying true or supreme happiness. The eight beatitudes Jesus gives in Mathew and the four in Luke contradict the ideas of real happiness found in the Jewish culture and in our modern society, according to which wealth, health, power and influence are the true beatitudes.    "The beatitudes" are technically known as “macarisms”, or blessings (from the Greek makarios, meaning "blessed" or "happy.")   Macarisms are found in the Book of Proverbs, in the Psalms, and even in the Book of Revelation.  There are thirty-seven beatitudes in the New Testament, seventeen of which are sayings of Jesus. Beatitudes appear in the Old Testament as well. 

Homily starter anecdote: Happiness Myths: Dr. Harold Treffert is the director of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Wisconsin. In an article entitled “The American Fairy Tale,” he discusses five dangerous ideas we have about the meaning of happiness. First, happiness is things. The more you accumulate and have, the happier you will be. Second, happiness is what you do. The more you produce and earn, the happier you will be. Third, happiness is being the same as others. The more you are fashionable and conform with the times, the happier you will be. Fourth, happiness is mental health. The fewer problems you have and the more carefree you are, the happier you will be. Fifth, happiness is communicating with electronic gadgets. The more you can communicate with a television set, a satellite or a computer, the happier you will be. According to Dr. Treffert, these five myths about happiness are the cause of many mental health problems today. If happiness cannot be found through these five myths of “The American Fairy Tale,” then where do we find it? Jesus gives us the answer when he outlines the beatitudes in today’s reading from Luke. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, Jeremiah tells us that true happiness consists in our placing our trust in God and in putting our trust in His promises. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 1), finds beatitude in keeping God’s Law. In the second reading St. Paul warns us that true beatitude is obtainable only in Heaven and that Christ’s Resurrection gives us our assurance of reaching Heaven for an everlasting life of happiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples in the paradoxical   blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow and persecution.  “Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and denounced,” because in poverty, we recognize our dependence on God; in hunger, God’s providence; in sorrow for sins, reconciliation with God; and in persecution, the true joy of standing for the Faith with heroic convictions. What makes one blessed is not simply poverty or hunger or sadness or suffering for the Faith but living these in the context of our commitment to Jesus and his spirit of sharing. The beatitudes must be understood as eschatological statements which see and evaluate the present in terms of the future glory and everlasting happiness.

First reading (Jer. 17:5-8), explained: Jeremiah gives a beatitude of blessing (17:7-8), paired with a curse (17:5-6), as its opposite, when he compares the wicked to a barren bush in a desert and the just to a well-watered tree growing near a running stream.  In essence, this “beatitude” teaches us that if we choose God as our hope, our security, and our happiness, we will be blessed, truly happy. On the other hand, if we choose human standards for our guides, ourselves as our source of security and the meeting of our own needs and desires as our happiness, we will find ourselves living in increasing misery and confusion, that is, in woe.   Jeremiah tells us that the only source of lasting happiness is trust in God and hope in His promises. The manner in which each of us exercises our freedom of choice will also determine whether we shall bring upon ourselves and our world blessings or curses. The passage is amplified in Psalm 1, today’s Responsorial Psalm.

Second reading (I Cor 15:12, 16-20), explained: St. Paul writes that trust and hope in the Resurrection of Jesus are the basis of our Faith, of our own resurrection and of our eternal bliss. Through Jesus’ death and Resurrection, believers are now welcomed into a new relationship with God as His sons and daughters, and with each other as dear brothers and sisters who have Jesus as our Elder Brother and Redeemer. This means that all the blessings of the Beatitudes are now available to us, provided we choose to follow the Beatitudes, for they codify, so to speak, the pattern of living Jesus established.  

Gospel exegesis: Luke presents the Sermon on the Plain as following immediately upon the choosing of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13 ff).   Therefore, one of the Fathers of the Church called this sermon “The Ordination Address to the Twelve."  Both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke are also known as “The Compendium of Christian Doctrine,” “The Magna Carta of the Kingdom," and “The Manifesto of the King."    In these two sermons we have the essence of Jesus' teachings to his chosen apostles.  The introductory portion of the sermon consists of blessings and woes that reflect the real economic and social conditions of humanity (the poor--the rich; the hungry--the satisfied; those grieving--those laughing; the outcast--the socially acceptable).  Each beatitude consisted of a pronouncement of blessedness (makarios) followed by who is blessed and why. These beatitudes of Jesus were taught in Aramaic.   In Aramaic they are not simple statements; rather, they are exclamations, i.e., “O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!" (Compare today’s Responsorial Psalm [Psalm 1], for a similar Hebrew version). In our current language it may be phrased as “Congratulations to …” the poor, the hungry etc. as a way of celebrating the blessed person’s success. Luke proposes that material poverty leads us to greater detachment from the things of this world, thereby allowing us to attach ourselves to spiritual values.  The beatitudes must be understood as eschatological statements which see and evaluate the present in terms of the future. In the same way, the woes pronounced upon the rich, the full, and those who laugh, function as an expression of sadness, not because of the person’s present circumstances but because of what will ultimately be.

Matthew’s vs. Luke’s versions:  Matthew presents the beatitudes as coming at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  In Luke's version, Jesus stands on a plain and states the beatitudes in   more compact and radical terms.  Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” is shorter than Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” the latter extending through three chapters.   Matthew gives eight beatitudes (the ninth being an explanation of the eighth), while Luke gives four “beatitudes” and four “woes."   This practice of pairing of blessings and woes is seen in Deuteronomy 27:12-13.  The wording in Luke is also quite different from that in Matthew.   In Matthew, Jesus uses   the third person ("they will be filled"), whereas in Luke, He speaks in the second person ("you will be filled").   Matthew speaks only of the reward promised to those who live according to Jesus' message.  Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the consequences those who do not heed Jesus' words will suffer.  Whereas Luke declares that the "poor," are blessed, Matthew uses the phrase "poor in spirit," thereby advocating a slightly different attitude, or disposition, toward God. Luke's version seems to mark with greater severity Jesus' warning to the "rich,” the "full,” the "laughing,” and "those who are spoken well of,” that is, to the self-centered and self-satisfied, whatever their financial or social status.

The fourth beatitude: Addressing his disciples, Jesus calls those who are persecuted for their Faith blessed because 1) they are eligible for a glorious reward ("Your reward will be great in Heaven"), 2) they are given the privilege of sharing in the pain, suffering, and rejection which Jesus himself endured for our sins, and 3) they are following in the footsteps of the martyrs of the Old Testament period and of the early martyrs of the infant Church. The thousands of Christians who courageously face persecution for their Faith in different parts of the world today share in the same beatitude.  Bearing heroic witness to their Faith in Christ Jesus, they teach and inspire us to do the same.

Liberation theology in the “Beatitudes.” Luke presents the beatitudes as reinforcing what Mary had said a few chapters earlier in the Magnificat: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."  The themes of the beatitudes reappear throughout both Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s account, alone among the Gospels, expands on the words spoken by Jesus at his inaugural sermon in Nazareth. There, Jesus declared an “option for the poor” and a “theology of liberation” with the powerful theme of economic and social reversal clearly stated. Luke’s account also demonstrates Jesus' solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable and with women, minorities, and the socially despised. In both Matthew and Luke, the beatitudes are a “series of bomb-shells” or “flashes of lightning followed by the thunder of surprise and shock" for Jesus’ hearers. That is because Jesus reverses our “natural” assumption that happiness lies in riches, pleasure, comfort and influence, and emphasizes the paradoxical   blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution, not in themselves but in what they can do.  He also challenges his listeners to find the fulfillment of all their needs in God. Jesus teaches that, although the poor are despised, resented or pitied by the world, God loves them deeply in their poverty, their sadness, their hunger and their deprived status. This is the basis of the so-called "option for the poor" that we are called to have.  

 Liberation of the oppressed: If the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the hated are all blessed, then why should anyone attempt to help them improve their lot?  The answer is that there is a difference between choosing poverty and being plunged into it without one’s choice, due to an unjust socio-political situation.   There are a few, only a few, saints like Francis of Assisi, who freely choose the sufferings and hardships that poverty brings. That is not what the Beatitude suggests, nor what Jesus asks of most of us. It is true that we are unable to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth. But we can help, either directly or by working with others for our poor brothers and sisters to improve their living conditions and education, so that they may choose to free themselves from the poverty thrust upon them by greedy exploiters. Luke’s account offers the rich the good news that their salvation lies in their concern for the poor and in the good stewardship of sharing their goods with others in need. But the rich among us remain cursed as long as they remain unwilling to share their surplus with the needy. In short, in the beatitudes, Jesus envisions a society where the resources which belong to all are divided among all according to need, making everyone blessed and happy.

Life Messages: 1) We need to respond to the challenge of the beatitudes in our daily life.  Millions are starving, persecuted, homeless, and leading hopeless lives. The only way the promises of the beatitudes can become a reality for them is through the efforts of people like us. That is why we are told that we will be judged on the basis of our acts of mercy and charity (Mt. 25:31-46).  St. Teresa of Calcutta, (Mother Teresa) and her Sisters have accepted this challenge and demonstrate that we can “live the beatitudes” in the modern world.  Hence, let us remember that each time we reach out to help the needy, the sick, and the oppressed, we share with them a foretaste of the promises of the beatitudes here and now. Just as the apostles were called to minister to society's untouchables, all Christians are called to minister to the untouchables, and the discriminated against, and the marginalized in our own modern society.  

2) Let us light a candle instead of blaming the political set-up.   Suppose we put the entire human family into a microcosm of one hundred people.   Eighty of them live in sub-standard housing, fifty are malnourished, and seventy are unable to read, while only one of them has a college education or owns a computer. Six of those one hundred people possess 59% of the world's wealth and five of them are from the United States.  This may help us to get a picture of the poverty in our world.   God, however, doesn't need such a microcosm.   He   sees the whole human family.   He knows that 50% of His children are hungry, 80% live in substandard housing and 70% have no education. If over half our children were hungry, cold and uneducated, how would we respond to their suffering?  God wants us to live as brothers and sisters who care for one another. This is why, down through the centuries, individuals, congregations and church bodies have practiced charity in creative, faithful ways. They have operated soup kitchens, food banks, clothing centers, homeless shelters and housing programs.  Individuals have taken care of their neighbors, helping them out with food, clothing and shelter when there was need

3) We must take care to choose our way wisely. "There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways." These are the opening lines of the "Didache" a first century Christian catechism used to teach new Christians the essence of the Christian Faith. The way of life is the way of Jesus, the way of the beatitudes, the way of loving service to God and our brothers and sisters that leads to eternal life. The other way is the way of death. It is the way of self-centeredness, self-reliance, immorality, self-indulgence and immediate gratification. It leads to death and hell. Which way are we going? The challenge of the beatitudes is: “Are you going to be happy in the world’s way or in Christ’s way?” If we choose the world’s way, we are seeking our blessings in the wrong place. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

14 February 2019, 09:42