The Poor

18 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Jer. 8:18-9:1 • Ps. 79:1-9

Alternate: Amos 8:4-7 • Ps. 113 • 1 Tim. 2:1-7 • Luke 16:1-13

The eyes of faith will see the Incarnation encoded in all of holy writ. It is simply impossible, once awakened and pulled from the water of baptism, to read rightly without the attending Spirit of the one who came to be among us, who was as we are in all things but sin, who forgave us, healed us, died for us, broke the gates that held the ancient captives, appeared, commissioned, ascended.

Jesus is another “I” from which the baptized live. “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). “Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? He takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes. He sets them with the princes, with the princes of his people. He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children” (Ps. 113:5-8).

Chide not the Christian for seeing Jesus in the Hebrew Bible, and not only there, for Jesus is wherever the cry of the poor ascends from the earth. As the mediator between heaven and earth, he is the open ear and the most tender heart: “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me” (Jer. 8:21). Then, the gift of tears: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people” (Jer. 9:1).

Jesus spoke in the time of the prophets, for he was coming to them and he has come to us. Jesus speaks: “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land … and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat” (Amos 8:4-6). These thunderous words are not truly heard until the heart is cut and contrite, seasoned with the hot truth of judgment.

“We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). Judgment is simply the truth openly exposed. Imagine the evils we would avoid if we felt, even slightly, the dread of something after death. Imagine the compassion we would feel if our hearts were wedded more deeply to human need as was and is the heart of Jesus. Imagine that we had, as many saints once did, the gift of tears. It is a fearful and beautiful thing to stand before the living God who announces that our neighbor is our flesh, our blood, our nature.

But it is not to the poor alone that Christ comes. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-7). How, precisely, shall the humble and poor live quiet and peaceable lives if the rich and powerful trample on the needy? The moral is more than clear. Wealth garnered from the community, no matter how real and diligent the labor of the one in high position, implies a responsibility to the community. The Bible has linked personal good with common good, though a stiff-necked people may deny this.

Look It Up
Read Luke 16:1-13. Shrewdness is not dishonesty, but the prudent management of a financial crisis.

Think About It
“Do you want to honor the Body of Christ? Do not despise him naked. Do not honor him here with silk vestments while you deny him outside, afflicted with cold and nakedness” (John Chrysostom, Hom. 50, 3-4). Uneasy?


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