#Radioactive is the podcast for February 17, 2019, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Nothing is more toxic than going against everyone’s way of thinking Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke #Luke6 #PBSVictoria #PotatoFamine #Irish #Poor #Hungry #MentallyIll #Weep #Allegiances #Radioactive
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/17/2019 The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 6:17-26.
Warning: The message from Jesus Christ in this Gospel is radioactive.
Today, we need to be above all our other allegiances to hear the Gospel. I will speak to our current situation for brevity’s sake. We cannot be capitalists because to be a capitalist is to find our ultimate value in accumulating wealth. We cannot be an American, because we are the richest country on the planet and cannot see, nor understand, the disparity of wealth between us and other countries. We cannot be wedded to the idea that those who are poor are poor because they did something wrong. We cannot be wedded to comfort of any kind to understand this word from Jesus, the Godman, the Messiah, the Savior.
To be clear, this message from Luke is not the prosperity Gospel. Believing in Jesus is not going to give you a million dollars, like one of the principals in one of the schools to which my kids went used to say. Seriously, she said it: “If you believe in Jesus, you will get a million dollars.”
Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain is not a spiritualizing of the qualities of poverty, hunger, and mourning. This is not ‘poor in spirit.’ This is not ‘hungering for righteousness.’ This is not ‘weeping due to a death.’ This is a message for those who are poor; those who are hungry, and those who are so miserable because of their current condition that they are weeping. So, we can get the notion that we can spiritualize this and assuage our consciences off the table. Today is not Gospel as self-help or self-rationalization.
To anyone who has been in a miserable spot in life, this passage should leave no doubt: God. Hears. You. Frankly, the other message is that he is not happy with the idea that we as human beings think that the goal of life is reciprocity: I will only do for you if you do for me. Well, if you are poor, you don’t have much bargaining power do you? If you are hungry, you aren’t exactly worried about the Keto diet, are you? If you are so miserable that you cannot put one foot out of the bed on the floor, then how do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you can’t even find your boots? Today, for you who are poor, hungry, and weeping, Jesus hears you loudly and clearly. The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed by the Lord.
I am catching up on the PBS Masterpiece Theatre series “Victoria”. I have just finished seeing the episode on the way the English responded to the Great Potato Famine in Ireland which killed 1 million of 4 million Irish. The Great Potato Famine sent 2 million of 4 million Irish to the United States. In other words 3 out of every 4 people in Ireland at the time either died or were forced to leave everything behind because they could not eat. The lack of a response by the British government was so appalling that news reports say that it wasn’t really included in the history books. Of course, poetic license made the Queen much more sympathetic in the TV show to the plight of her Catholic subjects than her diaries showed.
The arguments put forth in the episode as to why the British shouldn’t help are all too often articulated: the Catholics had way too many children to feed and it caused the collapse of the food chain. Or, there were all kinds of other contortions from the English Church as to why it was the Irish Catholics should not receive aid, or sympathy. The arguments are so strange to my Christian ears that I literally gasped when I heard them. The potato famine was caused by potato blight, a microorganism that is also called “water mold.” It grows like crazy when conditions are particularly wet and the temperature is 53-64 degrees Fahrenheit.
The point is that we tend to blame people for character flaws when they are poor, hungry, and so hurt by life that they weep or are plunged into mental illness. Jesus’ message to all is that the character of others is not our concern when their welfare is at stake. If Jesus were in Buckingham Palace during the Irish Potato famine he would have seen one thing: people were starving and needed food; people, not Irish. They were starving and not of flawed genetic character defect.
What does it matter if the person standing before you has done a million stupid things? What does it matter from whence they come? If they are without love or are in need, then by Baptism we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Their welfare is our first concern because God works through us.
It is St. Augustine who, in “The City of God,” introduced to the world to the idea that there are a law of God and a human earthly law. When the law of humans is unjust and not in keeping of the law of God, then, we, who are citizens of the City of God first, we are obligated to keep God’s law. We are supposed to be the place where the adulterers, the profligates, the cheats, the outcast poor, outcast hungry, outcast mentally ill, outcast sexually assaulted, etc. can come and receive forgiveness and love without the shame.
I cannot tell you how many more times in Church meetings I have heard 2 Thessalonians, “the one who does not work does not eat” quoted than I have Luke 6:30, which is just after this passage that says “give to all who beg from you”. My point, and I think the point of the Gospel is this: humans, no matter their stripe, be it nationality, religion, sexual orientation, class, gender, political affiliation, or whatever; human beings are more important than our earthly allegiances. This is true because to love God means to love our neighbor. There is no bifurcation. There is no separation.
Does love mean approval? No. Sometimes loving someone means not approving of what they do. Is approval a prerequisite of love? No. Our cause is the vice regency of God. That means we are to act as God would to care for his people and his earth. Or, maybe the short hand is that we should care.
We should be like Jesus standing on the plain with people coming from Jewish Jerusalem, Gentile Tyre and Sidon, and the unclean with diseases and unclean spirits. We should be like those who came to Jesus. We are both. Yet, to be told that our faith is above all of our allegiances, is radioactive. If we say we are Christ-ians, then following Christ is first.
I am not so much asking us to add a new program, a new ministry, a new outreach to the poor, the hungry, or the mentally ill, although those are all good. I am saying that for us to hear what Christ is saying, we need an adjustment of our allegiances and a total change of our thinking. Christians put God first and then care about every human being—in the whole world. We cannot be without compassion for the existential situation of those around us. We know this because we know that God cares about our existential situation, too.
This may be radioactive to our way of thinking, but if so, then it is we who need the adjustment. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian