16th February 2019 (Sat Vigil only. Sunday Homily by Fr John Collins, Society of St Columban.)

posted 18 Feb 2019, 02:34 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (15/2/19)


Today we hear the beginning of what is sometimes called The Sermon on the Plain, Luke’s equivalent of The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s Gospel.  One of the differences between the two is that whilst The Sermon on the Mount is just expressed in a positive way, “How happy are the poor in spirit” and so on, The Sermon on the Plain also has negative consequences for those who don’t follow it:  “Alas for you who ...”  If you compare the happy statements with the woe statements, you will spot that they mirror each other.  So, for example, “How happy are you who are poor...” is mirrored by, “But alas for you who are rich...”.  But it needs some interpretation, otherwise we are in danger of thinking that all poor people go to heaven, and all rich people go to hell.


There are a few different “keys” to understanding what it’s actually all about.


The Gospel of St Luke is the Gospel of the poor and outcast.  Christ is born in a manger, with no room at the inn, He is visited by shepherds, who weren’t exactly rich or popular, and we are told that He finished up His life crucified in-between two thieves.  So St Luke’s Gospel emphasises God’s love for those on the margins of society, which is also found in some of the parables.  It doesn’t mean, though, that we should romanticise poverty.  The underlying attitudes and the focus of your heart are the things we need to be more focused on.  This is what we also see in the first reading.


The prophet Jeremiah contrasts those who put their trust in man, who rely on the things of flesh, with those who put their trust in the Lord.  Where is my trust?  Where is my security?  Is it in riches, or in the provision, the providence, of God?  In Luke, chapter twelve (vs 16-21), we have the parable of the man who decides to pull down his barns and build bigger ones because he has had a good harvest and wants to hoard it all.  Little does he realise that he is going to die that night; then he will be judged by God for his selfish use of the things God has given him.


So back to the Sermon on the Plain:  the problem with the rich is that rather than possessing riches, they let their riches possess them, and blind them to the need of others around them.  Just like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (also in St Luke’s Gospel), they enjoy their riches to the point of ignoring their obligations to the poor.  The key to it all is a certain style of speaking.  When Christ says, “Alas for you who have your fill now:  you shall go hungry”, it’s not a condemnation of everyone here today who normally manages to eat three meals a day, as if that were sinful behaviour.  It’s a condemnation of selfish enjoyment of food, riches, the gifts of God, and a lack of trust in God’s care for us.  Some people might think:  if I give away a portion of what I have, then I won’t have enough for myself.  Sometimes, it is a case of giving until it hurts, and recognising that other people’s needs are greater than your own.  But it’s also one of trust in God that He will provide.  Matthew 6:33 has been set to music:  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Seek to do the will of God as your first priority, and then all the rest will fall into place.  But this doesn’t mean that we won’t have crosses to bear as well.


On Friday I read the testimony of Roman Kluska.  Following the collapse of communism in Poland, he founded an IT company.  Within a few years it had become the absolute leader in computer sales in Poland.  He put its success down to the ethics running right through the company.  You work as a service to others, you lead by example and the most important example comes from the management.  The company grew to thirty different enterprises.  But when the authorities imposed new conditions on them, involving deep corruption and excessive bureaucracy, he decided to sell.  He was advised by the appropriate government office that he was not obliged to pay any tax on this sale, but they also said, “Mr Kluska, we have various needs in the region, and you have saved so much tax money”.  He didn’t like where it was leading, so he reformulated the sale so that he paid 40% tax on it.  Then he was arrested and locked up as a major criminal.


He couldn’t believe it – he had voluntarily paid all that tax, and now he was in prison and totally disillusioned with the justice system.  His way of survival was to pray “Jesus, I trust in you” and to really mean it.  He abandoned his whole life over to God.  Then, the following day, he was released without charge.


It didn’t end there, because his prosecutors still persisted.  He had visitors who would say things like, “We are sent by the prosecutors.  If you do not pay, this matter will never end”.  He received another letter with even greater charges than those he was originally accused of.  Things went on for a year and a half or so.  But he put his trust in God, and then finally the Supreme Administrative Court in Warsaw ruled in his favour.  It was the officials who had committed the legal violations.


So who has the greatest power?  Is it money, or is it God?  I think the Psalms have it right:  “Do not set your heart on riches / even when they increase” (Ps 61(62):10).