Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
The plan is perfect! The blueprints have been made and issued to the builders. But hold on Houston, we have a problem. Somehow history has moved on and time and space now occupy another point. When we implement the plan of the Roman Colosseum of 75AD for a 21st-century Olympic Stadium without proper interpretation of the function, knowledge, processes and skills applicable to their point in time, we are likely to come up with something quite monstrous and dysfunctional.
Yes, the texts of Holy Scripture may remain unchanged, yet our understanding of these texts develops and changes. Slavery through the ages has always been an aberration of the strong subjugating the weak and the underlying philosophy that some lives are more important than other lives. There are many passages in the Bible that, if interpreted literally, support the keeping slaves and their obedience to their masters. These passages literally held up the Bible as supporting slavery.
In order to abolish slavery we needed a new way of reading the Bible. Instead of focusing on the literal interpretation of biblical passages, we emphasised the larger principles and general arc of the Bible. Our new lenses focused on liberation, freedom, equality, equity and care for everyone all creation. The abolitionist movement was led by religious people using the same Holy Scripture as support for the abolition of slavery.
When we experience anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, mourning and tiredness, we can so easily get caught in trite pious interpretations that suck all the joy off the bone of the Gospel. Don’t you know there’s evil in the world; hunger, death, disease, global warming, financial disorder; all the results of greed and corruption! They may be laughing now with their fast cars, big houses and expensive toys, but the time is coming when they will weep. And so we see the glum faces with jaws like flint set stoically on enduring this time in this evil age awaiting the great escape, our final destination to a better place for those who have endured and won the crown of eternal life. This is the teaching of Jesus, or is it?
When we take only one particular pronouncement in isolation it is so easy to misread the Beatitudes of Luke to say what you want it to say about poverty and wealth, hunger and plenty, joy and mourning. This passage has even been used in the penitential spirituality of Contemptus Mundi, contempt and moral disdain for the world and creation that is passing away.
This seems a world away from the very meaning of beatitude, blessedness, and the relationship and vision of God that brings us to peace, joy and happiness. This is our ultimate purpose, destination and the value system by which all things are to be measured; the further away from blessedness, the further away from that Love relationship that must always seek the good and the happiness of the other.
The True Meaning of the Beatitudes
So let us begin looking with new eyes on these Beatitudes of Luke. The disciples are with a large crowd on a piece of level ground as opposed to the Beatitudes of Matthew set on a hillside. Jesus is not addressing the crowds on this occasion, rather Jesus turns his eyes to his disciples and talks to them in the context of Jesus on mission that will become the disciple’s mission also. These disciples are travelling band of mendicant healers, exorcists and evangelists. Jesus tells his disciples the conditions they will encounter on their mission; dependent always on the generosity and hospitality of others.
The message of Jesus will not always be welcome so his disciples will go hungry they, will weep and they will be hated.
The message that they will carry will contradict the dominant culture of power, esteem and money. These are good things in themselves, but when they get in the way of our relationship with God, with each other and with the world, they lead us away from our goal and away from love and ultimately away from happiness.
Money, power and esteem, when given priority over those relationships, lead to greed, envy, avarice, jealousy, abuse of power, domination, injustice, tears and woe. They can bind us in chains of glittering enticements that close us in on ourselves.
There are two ways in which we can live our lives; closed off by the apparently more comfortable route of power wealth and reputation or escaping from the illusion and the trap of entitlement. When we reason with the arguments of the world, our hearts are tied up to our possessions, our good name, so that whether rich or poor, our hope for happiness depends on these goods and we are unfree, unable to love, not yet blessed.
In our Christian lives we are not called to seek suffering and destitution, our calling as disciples is to proclaim the kingdom of God in which we are all brothers and sisters given the good things of this world to share. As our Franciscan St Bonaventure said, “When we disdain the gift of the beloved, we disdain that beloved. When we hold the gift of higher value than the beloved, we commit blasphemy.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope. by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)