In the Gospel for this coming Sunday, we hear the beatitudes and woes of Luke 6: 20-26.
Blessed are you who are poor
Woe to you who are rich
Blessed are you who are hungry
Woe to you who are stuffed
Blessed are you who weep
Woe to you who are laughing
How can I preach “Blessed are you who are poor,” when I know that there are people here, perhaps in the church, who struggle to eat?
What can I say to them?
Yes, most of the people in the celebrations in the countryside are poor, but some have a dream of escaping poverty by going to the US to earn lots of money. Though poor, some have the dream of the rich, to be completely self-sufficient. They are willing to endure the nightmare of passing through Mexico to try to reach the US.
This is not to deny that those who are trying to enter the US are more often those who are trying to escape the violence and the poverty, the misery, that affects the lives of many in Honduras.
Those who live in the cities experience the violence of the gangs and drug-traffickers, as well as the repression of those who try to speak out against the rampant injustice. Throughout the country there is continuing violence of many other kinds – domestic violence, especially against women; violence due to conflicts over land or other issues; violence due to people seeking vengeance for crimes committed against their families; violence connected with abuse of alcohol or drugs as well as the large number of weapons. This is exacerbated by the lack of a justice and police system that investigates and prosecutes crimes. But others are leaving and seeking refuge in the US because of extreme poverty and the worsening of the economic situation. They are seeking to improve the lives of their families.
Of course there are some who leave seeking adventure or seeking money to live comfortably in the future. But violence and poverty, in a political situation of ineptitude and corruption and an economic situation of extreme inequality, are the driving forces for the migration.
But what do I say about the Gospel to those who are here? More than two-thirds in the country live in poverty, perhaps 40% in extreme poverty.
I think the message has to be a message of hope: Jesus has a vision that turns this world upside down.
Jesus does not invite the poor to be rich, but to live the kingdom. When the poor are really poor, living austerely, they are more likely to be living the Kingdom. When the poor are impoverished, they have been deprived of even the little they need to live as people of worth.
What is the kingdom? What are the signs of the kingdom? Share, care, trust.
What signs of the kingdom have I seen here?
- People caring for their sick or elderly relatives.
- Communities regularly responding to the needs of the poor, collecting basic food supplies and taking up collections to pay for expensive medicines or medical treatments.
- People donating money to buy land for a homeless family.
- People stopping to help me start my car when it broke down.
- Communion ministers walking for hours to bring Communion to the sick.
- Groups of young people who visit the sick.
- Poor people almost never turning aside from someone who asks for help, even if it’s only one lempira (about four cents).
- Offering food to whoever is in the house, even a crazy gringo.
I would suggest that when Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to the poor he is asking us to look at our communities:
- Are they selfish, concerned only with my well-being? Or are they place where people share?
- Are they communities where the poor and the marginalized are welcomed as full members of the community
- Are they places where people accompany those who mourn or are they only concerned about themselves?
- Are they places where the hungry are fed? Or, better, are they places where we all sit down together to eat, poor and not poor?
So, what can I preach?
- Be communities that welcome all.
- Avoid the temptation to accumulate.
- Share in the joys and sorrows of all.
- Above all, place your trust in God, who is a God of life and hope, and live as participants in the Kingdom of God.
I’m not sure that’s what I’ll preach – but it’s what’s moving my heart tonight.