The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29, 2017
Click here to listen to this
homily (.mp4 file)
little parable from the Eastern mystical tradition to begin with this
An itinerant holy man arrived at a village and
settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to
him and shouted, “The stone! Give me the precious stone!”
“What stone?” asked the holy man.
The villager replied, “Last night an angel appeared
to me in a dream and told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village
at dusk I should find a holy man who would give me a precious stone that
would make me rich forever.”
Well, the holy man rummaged through his bag and
pulled out a stone. “He probably meant this,” he said as he handed the
stone over to the villager. “I found it on a forest path some days
ago. You can certainly have it.”
The villager looked at the stone in wonder.
It was a diamond. Probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for
it was larger than the holy man’s hand. He took the diamond and
skipped happily away. But all night long he tossed about in his bed,
unable to sleep.
The next day at the crack of dawn, he ran to the
holy man, awakened him, and said, “give me the wealth that made it possible
for you to give away this diamond so easily!”
The Beatitudes which we just heard in the gospel
are a proclamation about that greater kind of wealth: greater than diamonds
or the most coveted of this world’s goods. The Beatitudes proclaim a wealth
that can’t be held in the hand or salted away. The Beatitudes proclaim
that the happiest people are those who hold onto nothing at all – only God;
that the richest people are really the poorest.
But in all fairness I have to acknowledge that it’s
not the materially poor but the “poor in spirit” that Jesus calls blessed,
and the poor in spirit includes anyone whose trust is totally in God and not
in things, anyone for whom God is absolutely central. But the truth is that
there is something about the materially poor that gives them a head start on
being “poor in spirit.” I think it’s their immunity to the insidious
pull of possessions.
The poor are spared the dangerous illusion that can
so easily trap people like many of us (I include myself) who have enough –
maybe far more than enough – of this world’s goods: the illusion that we are
somehow in charge of our lives, or that things can bring us happiness, or
that if we have enough of this world’s goods we will be able to control our
destiny. Such thoughts never occur to the poor. They live close
to the edge with none of the toys or trappings of what I like to call the
alphabet of success: they have no SUVs, BMWs, CDs, IRAs, or 401Ks. And
because they live so close to the edge with no comfortable cushion, no
safety net, no back-up system for a rainy day, the poor have a head start on
the rest of us in knowing how utterly dependent they are on God.
course, it is not just the poor in spirit who are proclaimed blessed in
Matthew’s Beatitudes. There is a whole list of others whom Jesus calls
blessed: the sorrowing, the meek, those who hunger for holiness, the
merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Quite a list, isn’t it?
Would you recruit them as building blocks or foundation stones if you were
building a kingdom? I wouldn’t! How can you build a kingdom with
a bunch of losers (pardon my bluntness!)?
And the answer is that you can’t. But God can. And
God does. God has chosen to work the divine wonders through those who, in
their pain and powerlessness, their honesty and their humility, allow God to
Isn’t this exactly what St. Paul was saying in that
passage from First Corinthians we heard in today’s second reading?
“Brothers and sisters, consider your own situation. Not many of you
are influential; and surely not many of you are well-born. God chose
those whom the world considers absurd in order to shame the wise; God
singled out the weak of this world to shame the strong, the world’s lowborn
and despised, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who
You’ve heard me speak over the years about the
L’Arche Community over on Capitol Hill. It is one of the quiet blessings of
my life. L’Arche is a community of love for the developmentally
disabled, a harbor of hope for wounded people who could easily be overlooked
and get lost in life’s shuffle. L’Arche is the Word of today’s
scriptures made flesh. Each of those special people gives a human face to
one of the Beatitudes.
My relationship with L’Arche has opened
up for me the meaning of today’s scriptures in a way that years of study
never could. Thanks to those beautiful people, I understand the
Beatitudes in ways I never could have. Strange, isn’t it? Nearly
thirty years ago when I first went to L’Arche I thought maybe I could do
something good for them. I had it wrong: they were the ones with something
good for me!
And so it is in this upside-down
world of the Beatitudes. God’s blessings come in strange shapes and
sizes and from altogether unexpected places. And God’s Kingdom is getting
built. God is the one who is building it, slowly but surely building it with
the most unlikely of materials, including my friends at L’Arche, and, yes,
including people like you and me!
Father Michael G. Ryan