Saturday, January 28, 2017

"BLESSED ARE THE POOR."


Homily or Jan. 29th, 2017: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.  Mt 5:1-12a
AIM: To show that the Beatitudes are Jesus= recipe for happiness.     
 
Back around 1950, when things cost far less than they do today, a ten-year-old boy entered a crowded neighborhood coffee shop and sat down at the only vacant table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him and a menu.
AHow much is an ice cream sundae?@ the boy asked.
AFifty cents,@ the waitress told him.
The boy pulled out the coins in his pocket and counted them.
AWell, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?@ he asked.
Other people were waiting to be served, and the waitress was growing impatient. AThirty-five cents,@ she replied brusquely. 
The little boy counted the coins in his palm again. AI=ll have plain ice cream,@ he told her. A few minutes later the waitress brought the ice cream, plopped the check on the table, and said: APay up front, son.@
The boy ate the ice cream, paid the cashier, and walked out. When the waitress returned to the table to wipe it down, she started to cry. There, placed neatly beside the empty ice cream dish, were two nickels and five pennies. The boy had had enough money for the sundae. But he couldn=t order it, because he had to leave the waitress a tip.    
I=d like you to reflect on two questions. What kind of parents do you suppose that boy had? And how would you rate his chances of happiness in adult life? About his parents there is no need to speculate. We can be certain that they were generous, kind, courteous, and compassionate. What about that little boy=s chances of happiness as an adult? I would rate them not just high but very high.
I base that prediction on Jesus= words in our gospel reading: ABlessed are the poor in spirit.@ The word translated Ablessed@ in this passage means Ahappy.@  The nine lapidary sayings in this reading are Jesus= recipe for happiness. How different they are from society=s recipe!
Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the poor in spirit,@ society today says, ABlessed are the rich.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are they who mourn,@ society says, ABlessed are those who know how to have fun.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the meek,@ society says ABlessed are the smart.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,@ society says, AIf you want to be happy, eat and drink well C live it up.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the merciful,@ society tells us, ABlessed are the powerful.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the pure in heart,@ society says, AHappiness is being slim, attractive, and young.@ (I have some rather personal objections to that one.) Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the peacemakers,@ society says, ABlessed are those who know how to fight for their rights.@ Where Jesus says, ABlessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,@ society says, ABe sure you get a good lawyer.@
We call these sayings of Jesus the Beatitudes. Whatever else we can say about them, one thing is certain: they are counter-cultural. They contradict just about everything our culture tells us. There is no way we can accept these teachings of Jesus, and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Does that mean we must opt out of society? Not at all. It does mean, however, that if we are serious about being Jesus= disciples, we must try to live by standards that are different from those of many people around us C even though many of them are good people. 
Nor can we choose among the Beatitudes, selecting the one that best suits us personally. The Beatitudes are not descriptions of nine different people. They are nine snapshots of one happy person: happy because he or she lives a life centered on God. 
The Beatitudes challenge us. They summon us to put God first in our lives.  To the extent that we do that, or at least try to do that, and keep on trying despite our many failures and the discouragement our failures cause, we discover that a life centered on God is a happy life. It is a fulfilled life. And it is a life that brings true peace. Why? Because God is the only source there is of true happiness, of fulfilment, and genuine peace. To all those who respond to this challenge, Jesus says: ARejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.@ 

Only in heaven? No, the reward Jesus promises begins here on earth. That=s why I could say that a ten-year-old boy=s tip to an overworked waitress who hadn=t treated him all that well was the predictor of a happy life. Will there be times later on, in that boy=s adult life, when his generosity is taken advantage of? Probably.  When it is, will he decide to abandon generosity and start looking after Number One? I hope not. 

Generosity doesn=t make us poor. It makes us rich. Winston Churchill was not a notably religious man; but he said once: AWe make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give.@ Jesus Christ says it best: AGive and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.@ (Lk 6:38) 

Is living by the Beatitudes easy? If you think it is, you probably haven=t tried very hard, or at least not very long. Is living by the Beatitudes beyond human  powers? It is. To live as Jesus tells us to live in these nine sayings we need a power greater than our own. That is why we are here. To be strengthened, uplifted, shaken up, and set ablaze with joy unbounded by the love that will never let us go.