Sunday, October 27, 2013

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

In our first reading we hear,
“Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet [God] hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.”
In the Hebrew scriptures, those who are weak and oppressed
are referred to as the anawim or “little ones,”
and they, as our scripture says,
are the special object of God’s concern.
It is from scriptural passages such as this
that the Church today draws her teachings concerning
the need for what Pope John Paul II called
a “preferential but not exclusive love for the poor”;
we, both as individuals and as a Church,
are called to give the poor,
the oppressed,
and the marginalized
a privileged place in our hearts and our concerns.
Concern for the poor is not, for Christians,
simply one concern among others;
concern for God’s little ones is integral
to our identity as God’s people.

This is not a matter of romanticizing the poor,
imagining that every poor person is good and noble;
indeed, poverty is very unromantic,
and often makes those who are poor
less good, less noble, than they might otherwise be.
The Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez
writes, “the poor are human beings;
they include very good people,
but there are also some among them who are not good.
We should prefer them not because they are good…
but because first of all God is good
and prefers the forgotten, the oppressed,
the poor, the abandoned.”
Our concern for the poor is not simply a matter of philanthropy
but grows from our convictions concerning who God is
and how God has acted in human history.
Indeed, we believe that when God came to dwell among us in Jesus
he took his stand with the poor and the powerless,
to the point of saying that
what we do for one of God’s little ones, we do for him.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it,
“Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind
and makes active love toward them
the condition for entering his kingdom” (CCC 544).

This is all relevant as we reflect this weekend
on our relationship with
our sister parish in Sepalau Guatemala,
an isolated village, high in the mountains.
Guatemala is an extremely poor country,
with a GDP that is roughly one-half
of the average for Latin America.
Among the indigenous people,
who make up most of the villagers in Sepalau,
73% live below Guatemala’s poverty line –
which, as you might imagine,
is considerably lower than ours.
Guatemala has one of the highest rates
of malnutrition in the world,
with almost half of the children
under the age of five
being malnourished.
Truly, the people of Sepalau
are among the “little ones” of God.

If our relationship with our sister parish
is to be an authentic one
we need to recognize the realities of the poverty
in which the people of Sepalau live.
But I’m not here to give a sociology or economics lecture,
but to preach the word of God.
And today the word of God tells us
that God hears the cries of the poor,
and will answer them
and establish for them justice on earth;
the little ones of this world will be lifted up
and the powerful will be cast down.

This is surely good news to the poor,
but what about the rest of us?
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that
“whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our love for the poor must manifest itself
in a kind of humbling of ourselves,
so that the concerns of the poor become our concerns,
so that their cause becomes our cause,
not because they are good, but because God is good,
because God has heard their cries and will answer them;
God has made their cause his cause
by emptying himself and accepting
the death of a slave,
death on a cross.
You cannot be on the side of God
if you are not on the side of the poor –
this is not politics; it’s simply the gospel.

And this is really what our sister parish relationship is about;
it is about coming to know and entering into friendship
with the people of Sepalau
so that their concerns can become our concerns,
so that is some small way
their struggles can become our struggles.
And we do this because by entering more deeply
into relationship with them
we enter more deeply into relationship with Christ,
who for our sake became poor,
so that we might have spiritual riches.