Wednesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Readings: Colossians 3:1-11; Psalms 145:2-3, 10-11, 12-13ab; Luke 6:20-26
Once again I find myself in a country where poverty is too real to ignore, where street children accost you on the streets as you emerge from a restaurant or bookstore. Just as real too is the high crime rate. Just yesterday, we were reminded not to resist if we were ever unfortunate enough to encounter a mugger. Of course, crime is not restricted to those who are poor, not by a long stretch. Today’s front page of the local newspaper carries the picture of a former president, already an ex-convict, who currently faces the specter of having to spend more time in prison. Still, one cannot deny the close relationship between poverty and crime.
How then to make sense of Jesus’ words in the gospel of today? Blessed are you who are poor… you who are now hungry… you who are now weeping… Can one really be considered blessed even when driven by poverty to commit armed robbery? What exactly is the poverty that is being commended? It's not an easy question to answer, not least because while the equivalent passage in Matthew’s gospel includes a qualification -- blessed are the poor in spirit… -- Luke’s version is more blunt. Yet, we may well wonder if it then follows that everyone who is materially poor is necessarily blessed.
The first reading comes to our aid. What is the kind of poverty – whether material or spiritual – that attracts God’s blessing? What are its characteristics and effects? From the letter to the Colossians, we might infer that blessed poverty helps to put to death the parts of us that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Blessed poverty leads us – in our all our thoughts, words and actions – to seek what is above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, even if we have to suffer as a result. Blessed poverty leads us to work towards true communion: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.
Is it easier to acquire this kind of blessed poverty if one were actually materially poor? Perhaps. Is it far more difficult if one were materially wealthy? Probably. Doesn’t Jesus say as much (see Luke 18:25)? Still, whatever our financial situation, each and all of us are called to the same blessed poverty, the kind that enables us continually to move away from the discord born of greed to the communion that comes from hearts centered on Christ.
How blessedly poor are we today?