February 17, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) on February 17, 2019, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; and Luke 6:17, 20-26.
Today, we focus on beatitudes. Now, when most of us hear that term, we think of the beginning of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, with its list of 9 proclamations, each of which starts with the words “Blessed are.” In some translations, they start with “Happy are.”
But the beatitudes we hear today in Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” aren’t quite the same the same ones. Our reading from Jeremiah and our Psalm also feature beatitudes, statements that begin with “Blessed is” or “Blessed are.” Each of these passages includes the antithesis of a beatitude: at least one statement about people who will be cursed or woeful. Let us drink in the challenges of our Scripture passages today.
Luke is the Gospel of social justice. Let us recall that we are not only recipients of God’s mercy, but that we are called to share God’s mercy with others!
The Gospel of Matthew shows that Jesus is the new Moses. So, Jesus gives his great sermon on a mountaintop, echoing Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. But here in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives his great sermon on a flat stretch of land. Why is that?
It’s probably because Luke is making a point about social justice. Jesus came to declare the kingdom of God. That kingdom will have no more tears, no more suffering, and those who have more than they need will provide for those less fortunate. When John the Baptist says that he is fulfilling Isaiah’s promise to make ready the way of the Lord by raising the valleys, lowering the mountains, and straightening the paths, I often wonder how much of that message is about geography and how much is about socio-economic conditions.
But in the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Luke, we hear two messages of social justice that don’t have much nuance. Today, Jesus promises blessings to the poor but woe to the rich. Blessings to the hungry but woe to those filled now. Blessings to those weeping but woe to those who laugh now. Blessings to those who are hated, insulted, and excluded but woe to those who are well-regarded. It doesn’t make us any more comfortable when Luke reports Mary proclaiming that God “has thrown down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up the lowly,” and that God “has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
Does that mean that being rich, well-fed, laughing, of well-regarded are indications of sin? (Maybe that’s why you don’t laugh at my jokes!) Does it mean that being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated are indications of virtue? No. Surely, it’s more complicated than that. And as we get deeper into the Gospel of Luke, we’ll see those nuances. The vast majority of the people that Jesus meets are poor, weak, and despised. Jesus’ interactions with them indicate what the kingdom of God will be like when it comes to fruition. The individuals that Jesus criticizes in face-to-face meetings and in parables are wealthy, powerful, well-regarded individuals who neglect the poor, the weak, and the despised people around them.
I think the danger for most of us is to think that we’re not wealthy enough, powerful enough, laughing enough, or well-regarded enough to be the people that Jesus is talking to. For the vast majority of us, oh yes, we are. Be honest: when Mary speaks of God lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things, do you think she’s talking about you? So, how do we know how much to give? Well, it’s been said we should give until hurts. I disagree. We should give until it feels good.
The people of St. Austin parish understand the nuances of social justice better than most people. We have a surprising economic diversity within this parish. There are people struggling to get by and we have people who are quite wealthy. But this parish spends a remarkable amount of its energy on helping the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated. And some of those who do the most to help are the wealthiest. Yes, many people here – no matter what their financial standing is – are generous in their financial donations. Even more of them are willing “to get their hands dirty” and meet the excluded souls of the Austin metropolitan area face-to-face. There’s always more that we can do, of course, but the people of the parish – individually and as a whole – do an amazing amount of work for the underprivileged.
And that brings us to this important moment in the history of St. Austin parish. As many of you know, we are one of the very few parishes in the country with a full-time Director of Social Justice Ministries. And after nearly 10 years of service to St. Austin in that position, Mrs. Patricia Macy has announced that she is going to be begin her well-deserved retirement in July 2019. We have opened the job search for the next Director of Social Justice Ministries. We hope to hire the person well before Pat retires, so that the two of them can have sufficient overlap in the office.
In my humble opinion, the Director of Social Justice Ministries at St. Austin is one of the PREMIERE positions in central Texas for proclaiming and carrying out Catholic Social Teaching. (In fact, much to her embarrassment, I call Pat “The Grand Dame” of Social Justice Ministry in the Diocese of Austin.) Not only does Pat coordinate the Thursday Outreach program – in which we help those struggling to get prescription glasses, work boots, bus passes, identification papers, and rent and utility assistance, she actively collaborates with many other organizations, including Saint Vincent de Paul, Micah 6, Courageous Conversations, Austin Energy, and Meals on Wheels. She has spearheaded many interfaith and ecumenical initiatives, as well as countless service projects. She has advocated for policy changes at the state and national capitols. Perhaps most importantly, Pat educates everyone else in the parish on the current issues in Catholic Social Teaching. The columns that she’s written every week in our bulletin are an unparalleled treasure trove!
So, please, spread the word about this excellent opportunity to help St. Austin parish continue to be a place of living out the blessings – and the challenges – of the beatitudes. May those among us who have enough continue to give all we can for those who have less. May we, like John the Baptist, carry out Isaiah’s vision to raise the valleys, lower the mountains, and make straight the path for all people in need. When will we know when we’ve done enough to build the kingdom of God? When our spirits, like Mary’s, rejoice in the Lord!