HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: CHRIST ‘S CONTROVERSIAL THEOLOGY OF POVERTY: BLESSED ARE THE NEEDY AND THE HUMBLE!
BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr)
* Zeph 2: 3 – 3: 13, 1 Cor 1: 26 – 31, Matt 5: 1 – 12.
*A. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND*
We are in a very pragmatic society where people want the quickest ways of getting their problems solved; they go to dibias, pastors, healing ministers or prayer contractors. The theology of prosperity is as old as man, inherited from primitive Old Testament theology. Look at Psalm 128 and see the promises of prosperity for those who fear the Lord and walk in his way – prosperity in business, fruit of the womb and family peace were 3 clear promises made there. When people did not see these three manifestions of prosperity, it mearnt there was a problem somewhere.
The book of Job became one of the first revolutionary books of the Old Testament showcasing the possibility of a righteous man suffering. Other wisdom books followed suit especially the Maccabean account of early martyrdom. That was the beginning of the revolutionary teaching that was to come in Christ. Christianity was sustained for so many years with this understanding of the value of poverty and human suffering and the eventual reward of heaven. By the 19th century, Christianity was heavily grappling with the challenges of materialism. Philosophers like Karl Marx took advantage in his philosophy of dialectical materialism to place a pun on religion as the ‘opium of the people’ ; because the poor man was unable to create money, he created a God to console him. He calls religion the ‘false creation of those who can do nothing, say nothing and change nothing’. Many believed him at their own peril.
When Christianity came to America (Quoting Fr Emma Onuh: ‘Christianity began in Jerusalem as experience, went to Rome as institution, came to Europe as a way of life, came to America as business and to Africa as charity to the poor’), Pentecostal preachers now took up the mission to correct the ‘old school notion of Christianity’ viz a viz its theology of poverty. Good as this project may be, Fr Emma Onuh warned in his book ‘Pentecostalism: Selling Jesus at a discount’, that if pentecostalism is not attenuated by sound theology it may land itself into what he calls ‘the heresy of Christian materialism’. And that is where we all are today. No Church is left out of this quagmire!
*B. CHRIST ‘S SERMON ON THE MOUNTAIN.*
This is one of the most celebrated homilies of Christ. Jesus mounted the pulpit for the first time (the Bible says ‘Seeing the crowd, He climbed the Mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and taught them…) and comes up with a controversial theology of poverty. I summarize it as ‘Blessed are the poor, ie the needy’;
(i) Those in need of grace (poor in spirit), Lk 18.
(ii) Those in need of consolation (who mourn), Mk 11: 27.
(iii) Those in need of human approbation /blessing (the gentle), Ex 20: 12.
(iv) Those in need of righteousness (especially those who teach others how to be righteous), Dan 12: 3.
(v) Those in need of mercy (and who are merciful themselves), Lk 11: 4.
(vi) Those in need of purity (who are pure of heart), Rev 21: 27.
(vii) Those who are in need of peace (peacemakers), Eph 6: 15.
(viii) Those who are in need of justice (those persecuted for their uprightness), Ps 37: 40.
The Beatitudes go beyond common sense to God’s sense – beyond philosophy to theology. As long as we govern ourselves by our common sense alone, we cannot understand and live out the Beatitudes. Great men like Mahatma Ghandi of lndia and Martin Luther King Jr of America found a lot of inspiration in the Beatitudes for their philosophy of Non violence (pacifism).
*C. THE POWER OF HUMILITY*
The 1st reading of today addresses the humble and poor of the society – Franz Fanon calls them ‘The wretched of the earth’. It says: ‘Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth – seek integrity, seek humility.. You may perhaps find shelter on the day of the Lord. They are warned to do no wrong, tell no lies on their path to success. The promise is divine security – They will be able to graze and rest with no one to disturb them. Difficult as this may sound to young people who want financial breakthroughs, the truth remains that many who get wealth the wrong way lack security.
Insecurity is the greatest trouble of the rich. According to Oscar Wilde, ‘In this world, there are only 2 tragedies; one is not getting what we need, and the other is getting it’. And so is it today that while the poor are crying for their problem of having insufficient money, the rich are even crying more for their excess money because big men have big troubles.
*Take for instance, we know that some past presidents of this country have died in a most shameful way in a bid to enjoy their wealth. So many rich men are wallowing in the quagmire of ‘domestic mess’.
Only humility gives us the wisdom and security we need for human happiness. Today’s 2nd reading says that it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human standards and to shame the strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning. As Fulton Sheen put it, Christ chose the birthplace of the manger, the profession of a carpenter, the companionship of illiterates and death by hanging on a tree, Gal 3: 14.
The secret of prosperity comes from poverty – an emptying of self through faith in God. This faith makes us give the little we have back to God (through tithes and charity) and God confirms his Word: Blessed are those who have and give because they will be given more but those who have not enough and does not give, even the little they have will be taken away, Mk 4: 24, Lk 6: 38, Lk 1: 51.
We are successful therefore, because of what we are (bona fide children of God) and not because of what we have. The feeling of neediness before God manifests in form of worship, offering and life of righteousness. The Beatitudes do not represent 8 different classes of people but apply to one and the same people – people who have nothing to hope for from this world but who look up to God for everything, Ps 121. They rest on 2 pillars; humility and mercy. It’s simplest rendition would be: Blessed are those who depend on God through prayer and obedience, they shall be satisfied.
Robert Schuller beautifully describes the Beatitudes, from a psychological point of view as ‘Be – happy – attitudes’ which harp on the following cliches;
(i) I need help from God (the poor), I cannot do it alone, so I pray.
(ii) I am really hurt (those who mourn) but I am going to bounce back, so I pray.
(iii) I am going to remain cool, calm and corrected (the gentle) when people provoke me, so I pray.
(iv) I really want to do the right thing always (those who thirst for righteousness), so I pray.
(v) I am going to treat others the way I want God and others to treat me (the merciful), so I pray.
(vi) I’ve got to purify my life (the pure in heart) and let the faith flow through me, so I pray.
(vii) I’m going to be a bridge builder (peacemaker) between all quarreling people, so I pray.
(viii) I can choose to be happy even when I am being persecuted. Quote Victor Frankle.
The Beatitudes are golden rules for happiness for the Blessed. They may be poor in riches but they don’t mind it because they trust in God as a great provider and so they are happy, Ps 125. They may be materially rich but because they are poor in spirit their wealth means nothing to them than an avenue to give and therefore they are happy. The Blessed when they have sorrow, realize that they are sharing in Christ’s own sorrow and therefore they are happy. While the 10 commandments of the Old Testament tell us what not to do and what not to be (-ve spirituality), the 8 Beatitudes of the New Testament tell us what to do and what to be. They are BE – HAPPY – ATTITUDES for the redeemed children of God who depend on God by a daily poverty of the spirit. Happy Sunday dear friends!
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