6 Ordinary – Year C – Hope in the Lord!
All three readings describe to us a scene full of despair, persecution, fear, and death. Yet the responsorial psalm tells us, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” Hope in the Lord in times of trouble and persecution? It does not sound right to us, does it?
A preacher began his preaching on today’s gospel by asking for a show of hands from all in the congregation who would love to be poor, starving, weeping and hated by everybody. No hands went up. Then he asked of those who, on the contrary, would love to be rich, well fed, laughing and well spoken of in the community. All hands went up. A similar survey in any church would probably yield similar results.
Yet Jesus in Luke declares a blessing on those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. To make sure we get the point, he goes on and explicitly pronounces a woe on those who are rich, well fed, laughing and well spoken of. What is going on here? Does Luke want us to understand that material poverty in itself is a sign of divine approval and material prosperity a sign of divine disapproval? Certainly, not! Luke wants us to have HOPE in Jesus even when things are not “as good” as we want them to be.
Poverty in itself is not a blessing but an evil, a lack. In fact, all the qualifying factors mentioned in Luke’s Beatitudes — poverty, hunger, sorrow, hatred, exclusion, reviling, defamation — are all evils. These are things no good parent would want for their children. Neither would God want these things for us, God’s children. How are we then to understand Luke’s beatitudes? The key to Luke’s Beatitudes is to be found in an important clause, which he adds at the end of the last beatitude, and the clause is “on account of the Son of Man.” What Luke is saying is this, those who accept these evil conditions as the price that they have to pay for following Christ are the blessed ones. Some knowledge of the social background of Luke’s gospel would help us here.
Luke wrote his gospel at a time of terrible social and religious persecution of believers in Christ. It was so severe that anyone professing to be a Christian knew for sure that he or she would be disowned by family, rejected by friends and excluded from the synagogue. One immediately lost one’s right of inheritance, free association and commerce in the community. Even if one was a very rich person with lots of land and farms, the moment they declared their faith in Christ, they were automatically dispossessed and reduced to a state of stark poverty. Now you know why some smart ones among them would go and sell their lands first!
Don’t we experience the same persecutions the people who lived in Luke’s time went through? Certainly, yes! We lose a friend over a “vocal fight” of the right thing to do. Our parents, coworkers, and sometime our spouse complain that we are “church goers.” People stare at us when we do the sign of the cross before eating in a restaurant. They laugh at us for the moral life we live according to the Church teachings. They ignore God’s law but embrace human laws. Instead of worshipping God, they worship material possessions.
My dear friends hold true to your faith, hope in the Lord even if it seems to us that darkness is covering us, or our enemy is winning the battle. They might win the battle but they will surely lose the war. Remember, God will never leave us! We will vindicate with God on the last day. Some Saint had said: “When God closes a door, he opens many windows.” I found this statement true throughout my life. When I see nowhere to go ahead, he opens another path for me to walk. He always opens many windows of opportunity for us. He wants us to look out of that window, to look beyond ourselves, to look and to find what he has for us out of the ordinary and which surpasses our imagination. In order to see this, we need to have a clear vision and an open mind!
Unlike other people who have no hope beyond this life, because they do not believe or know Christ, as Christians, we have hope, and our hope has a foundation, a strong one. As St. Paul said, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who hope in him!“
Father Martino Nguyen Ba-Thong