Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 17:5-8; 1 Cor 15:12-20; LK 6:17-26

Today’s gospel passage may seem a bit strange to many Catholics. We know well Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes; it is used far more frequently than Luke’s in liturgical settings. There are definite differences between the two versions. Each is used by the gospel author (Matthew or Luke) for their own theological purposes. Both versions have something to teach us and we should not try to compare one as better than the other. Instead, let’s read each in its own context. Matthew’s Beatitudes come at the beginning of his account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; they are an elaboration of the dimensions of God’s Kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim.

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (really the Beatitudes and Woes) tries to show what is expected of those who would be followers of Jesus, those who would belong to the "Poor of God." The Poor of God are a special concern of Luke. He has already told us this by having the birth of Jesus announced to simple shepherds, and not to respected magi (as in Matthew’s Infancy account). In Luke’s gospel the "poor" becomes a name for Jesus’ disciples. Yet it is important to remember that here "poor" does not mean someone who is needy in terms of earthly possessions; rather "poor" designates a religious frame of mind. This frame of mind is one that is willing to change one’s way of life (one’s spiritual attitudes and habits), even radically. The poor individual, a true follower of Jesus, doesn’t hold on to one’s ego, one’s set personality and regular ways of doing things, but is willing to undertake major spiritual changes. In Luke those who are well-off in terms of wealth and possessions can be followers of Jesus if they are willing to share what they have with those in need.

This is a different reading of "poor" than we have in common parlance. For us "poor" means a physical condition of neediness. We need to remember that difference if we are to correctly interpret Luke’s meaning. For the evangelist Luke "to be poor" means a willingness to change one’s life in a better spiritual direction. While this may be a rather new way of thinking for we twenty-first century Americans, it actually is very close to the ancient monastic theme of "conversio morum" or conversatio morum (in the Rule of Benedict). While there is a lot of scholarly discussion about the exact meaning of the phrase in the context of the Rule, it’s pretty commonly accepted that it refers to a process of changing one’s life.

We might say that it’s a way of countering "static living." We human beings seek regular patterned ways of doing things; that drive seems to written into our socio-psychological make-up. If we get a new job, move to a new place or find ourselves in changed circumstances, one of the first things we do is try to find a "regular pattern." We want to find what’s required of us and what’s the best and quickest way to get it done. That’s true in all areas of life, and it begins in small things. I used to like to study it in terms of "breakfast habits" in monastic communities. Everybody seems to have regular habits of getting into the day. People can even get really fixated in these.

The same drive for regular patterns holds true spiritually. We seek patterns, habits, regular ways. And this is good....up to a point. Ultimately, spiritual growth is not static! Lent is a good time to explore our "regular ways" of doing spiritual things and seek some new life and growth. (At this point I stopped and went and tore up my Bona Opera; I usually put down about the same things each year. It was time to come up with something new.) To be a member of the Poor of God is to be willing to change spiritually. Let’s remember that this coming Lenten season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good message....I needed to read that today!

Jennifer Vance