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The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2018

Like a lot of preachers, I subscribe to a homily service that I turn to now and again in hopes of finding a fresh insight into the Sunday readings: an interesting twist, a new angle.  More often than not, I’m disappointed and left to foraging around in my own sometimes less-than-fertile mind for an idea. And, of course, I’m also left wondering why in the world I bother to subscribe to the homily service in the first place!

     Today’s offering from the homily service is a good case in point.  I quote: “In his letter, St. James encourages his readers to make their own the mind and heart of God who never shows partiality.”  That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? In his Letter, James tells us that we should treat the poor person who comes into the assembly dressed in shabby clothes with the same respect as the one comes in sporting gold rings and fine clothes. So, fair enough. We are to show no partiality. But is the homily service right in asserting that God shows no partiality? Listen to the remaining words from that reading: “Brothers and sisters, did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  Does that sound like impartiality to you?  Maybe not.

     And then when you read those words from James with the rest of the Bible in mind – especially the Prophets (Amos, for example, Isaiah, Hosea), and Luke’s gospel, where seven out of ten verses deal with the poor! – well, the case for God’s impartiality loses even more ground.  Think, for instance, of Mary who, in her great hymn of praise in Luke’s gospel, the Magnificat, celebrates the God who “casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly…who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.”  Impartial?  Maybe not.

     And then, think of Jesus who was born in the poverty of an animal shelter, and of the simple, rough shepherds who were his first visitors. Think, too, of Jesus the teacher who made it clear that he came to bring good news to the poor, and who spent so much of his time among the poor – the down-and-out, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and other undesirables. And think also of the Jesus of Matthew’s gospel who told us that it was in meeting the poor, the hungry, and the homeless that we would actually be meeting him.

     And there’s more. St. Paul, in First Corinthians, speaks of “the foolishness of God…who chooses the foolish of the world to shame the wise…the weak of the world to shame the strong…the poor and despised of the world – those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.”

     I don’t need to belabor the point.  There’s nothing wonderful about poverty – I think we can all agree on that - but, for all their misery, the poor of this world have something to teach us, and they also have a special claim on God. In nearly all of its social teaching since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has echoed and emphasized this theme, speaking strongly – and, to some, I’m sure, surprisingly – of a “preferential option for the poor.”  And, in the past five years, Pope Francis has clearly elevated the poor to the very top of the Church’s agenda, calling our attention to what he calls “an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor,” and uttering a strong “thou shalt not” to what he calls “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” “How can it be,” he asks, “that it is not a news item when an elderly poor person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses a couple of points?” How indeed!

     This much is clear: we Catholics simply do not line up with ‘prosperity gospel’ Christians who espouse a “preferential option for the wealthy.” They view wealth, success, and prosperity as sure signs of God’s favor. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that God doesn’t love people who are wealthy. God most certainly does. But God’s gifts are given to be shared, not hoarded, and the more we have received, the more we are to give. I can’t tell you how often and how deeply moved I am by people in our parish with significant means who are incredibly generous in sharing their means. They would be the first to agree that it’s when they do share – when they give generously - that they are the happiest and feel closest to God.

     My friends in Christ, God loves us all, rich and poor alike. That’s a given. And God often shows his love for the rich by inspiring them to use their wealth to help the poor.  But in the end, the claim of my homily service notwithstanding, a convincing case can be made that, when it comes to the poor, God does play favorites…!

     One more thing, though. There is a sense in which everyone of us is poor.  We are all spiritually poor before God, and that’s why we’re going to come forward in a few minutes – that’s why we need to come forward - to receive the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is God’s great gift that makes us rich in the only way that really counts.

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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