Sunday 6C, 13th February 2022
All words limp, can be misunderstood – deliberately or otherwise – and of course even more so in translation. Macarios as ‘Blessed’ or ‘Happy’ can start us off in quite different directions. God confirming the poor in their poverty, for example, enjoy it it’s good for you and even if you are hungry or weeping now this will not always be so …endure it for the time being because the ‘now’ excuses it until some indefinite future – the eschaton perhaps and last days. And similarly the attack on the rich can be seen as postponing action for the poor and deferring justice until God gets even after death or at the end of time. Or equally crudely, perhaps, that the rich become as the poor because poverty is a blessing, guaranteeing a place in heaven where the great reversal is assured. But a clue to its wider reference is perhaps found in today’s other readings. And certainly elsewhere in the gospels where the blessing given to the poor is not because of their poverty necessarily but because it may enable a greater trust, or better a truer trust in God.
Happy the man who has placed his trust in God
Or in the words of St Paul:
If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people
And what he may have in mind here, as also in Luke, the psalm and Jeremiah, is the false perception of many that riches, material blessings, are a sign of God’s approbation, that things are going well because one is leading a just life, that one is righteous or right with God and therefore already being rewarded. But the joy of the Lord does not lie only in such material riches and this is where the ‘only’ in Paul’s statement is important. It’s not that riches are bad and poverty is good in themselves, or the sense that only the spiritual matters and matter does not, but that the material world is a vehicle for God’s goodness only if God’s goodness to all is kept in mind and leads necessarily to action on behalf of the poor and this as the poor understood in so many senses – the excluded, because of race or religion, the autistic, the disabled, the unborn and so on. And richness understood also in so many senses: our present comfortable lives as monks and nuns, for example, or as country-dwellers distant from the issues in all our cities and town centres now or as a nation not under the immediate threat of war and so on. Riches can then become a barrier, an impediment on our way to God, because we fail to see beyond them – a love of this life only because it suits me. A glaring omission at the moment in the government’s plan to suspend all Covid regulations is the position of the immuno-suppressed or immuno-compromised, all those unable to benefit from the new freedoms because vaccination does not guarantee freedom for them from Covid-related death. This is the rich acting with total disregard for the poor. What Paul is defending in his letter to the Corinthians is not that our material life is of no consequence at all in our journey to God but that precisely because Christ’s body is resurrected we can know that the material world matters and matters now – that because all matter is created by God it must also be consecrated to God and used accordingly. So blessed are the poor because in their poverty they are a challenge to us all to begin the building of God’s kingdom now – and we are all poor in this respect. Or as the naturalist John Weir once said ‘It’s all love’. And in the words of our final psalm at Lauds this morning:
Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord!
Everything – without exception.