Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wednesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Blessed Poverty


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?

2 comments:

  1. To be "poor in spirit" means to be less full of ourselves so that God has space in our lives.

    This is tough as I spend my days on the go, and am always occupied with work/kids/family. We're also reminded to achieve, be confident and assertive and all this does not gel with being "poor in spirit".

    I'm reminded of my dependence on God when I'm troubled. I seem to get no immediate answers to my worries and just have to trust in God that things will work out. I have to empty myself of the worries and the fear that if I did nothing, things would get worse.

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  2. When I was very young, my grandmother used to tell me that she didn't want to be materially poor - ever. I can understand what she meant, even as a child; not because she was in dire straits, but because she never had the luxuries that we take for granted today. She went on to add that if one were materially deprived, one can't help those who need our help. Wisdom 101.

    Fast forward to modern day Singapore where wealth and plenty are self-evident. I myself am a beneficiary of the amazing economic progress that this country has achieved over the last 42 years - by the grace of God and human effort. Yet, for me there is constant tension between 'living the good life' and being attuned to the gentle prompting of the Spirit and following it. I say it is a 'tension' because the two are diametrically opposed. Didn't Jesus Himself say: "You cannot serve God and mammon (read money, sex, pleasure, fame, power, etc)".

    Against this backdrop comes Fr Chris' helpful reflection: poverty (whatever type you may wish to associate it with) helps us detach ourselves from the things that draw us away from God. Can the materially poor realise this better than those materially well off? Perhaps, if their deprivation doesn't drive them to envy and greed. What about those materially blessed? Perhaps, if their state of comfort and self-sufficiency doesn't shut them off from God and neighbor.

    In Fr Chris; own words: there is no easy answer (only God's grace).

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