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Sunday 13 February 2022: Epiphany 6, Sixth In Ordinary time

Paid in full
Jeremiah 17: 5-10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

By Joseph Estorninho
Permanent Deacon in the diocese of Westminster and Head of Music at a school in West London

Context: a Sunday morning Mass at a middle-class parish made up mostly of professionals and academics, many of whom have young families

Aim: to explore the gospel reading focussing on hope

As adults we seem to accumulate debts that are unknown in childhood. When we bought our house, like everyone else, we didn’t have all the money to pay the total in one go so we took out a mortgage. Over the years we have been invoiced for the remaining balance due and each month with each payment we can see the balance owing dropping. We look forward (very much) to the invoice that reads ‘Balance due: £00.00. Paid in full’. Our debt will have been paid and the bank should not expect any further payment from us.

Today’s reading – from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain – is parallel to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. They are not exactly alike, although both begin with a series of beatitudes. But the key thing they have in common is that they appear like a lightning air raid. We probably all know these beatitudes so well that the edge has come off them. But be in no doubt! These are challenging words: they are confrontational; they are radical; they are subversive. To the world, the hungry, the poor, the rejected are not happy people. You might say, this is the very definition of UN-happiness. No philosopher would dare to argue that these are signs of happiness and that these are things for which we should strive. Indeed, in Jesus’ day impoverishment or any other misfortune was seen as a divine punishment for past misdeeds. That’s why these beatitudes are such bombshells. That’s why they’re subversive. They challenge the thinking of the world.

The key to understanding the meaning of these beatitudes is when Jesus says, ‘Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now’. The Greek word (apechete) that Luke uses for ‘having’ carries with it the connotation of being paid in full. In other words, they have had their reward and they should not expect anything further.

The poor that Jesus mentions are those people who are not just struggling to get by, those who may have financial difficulties. These are the poor who have nothing except what is given them in alms. The happiness Jesus offers them is hope: the hope that there will come a day when they will no longer be poor. This hope is their strength.

Most people will use the word ‘hope’ interchangeably with ‘wish’: ‘I hope you have a nice day’, for instance, but that is not the Christian understanding of hope. Let me give an example. Imagine one morning in the depths of winter you wake to find the house is freezing and you discover the boiler has finally gone. The last time you had it serviced you were told it was on its last legs. You go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and find the pipes have burst and there’s water pouring into the kitchen. Finally, you find that the car won’t start so you call for the AA. The man comes and tells you that it’s going to be very expensive to repair. You’ve been furloughed for the past year; you’ve gone through all your savings and your credit cards are maxed out. Financially, you’re at rock bottom.

Now imagine that at that moment you get a telephone call. It’s from the lovely people at Euro Millions and they inform you that you have won the jackpot! It’s some absurd amount, but ... you can’t have the money for about 6 weeks while they process the paperwork. Think how you would feel. Nothing about your material situation has changed. The problems are all still there: the boiler still isn’t working; the pipes are still burst; the car still needs an expensive repair job – but your outlook has changed. You can face these problems because you have hope. You know with certainty that the day will come when these problems will disappear. That’s hope!

So, what does it mean for those of us who are not poor or miserable? The message is that if wealth is our goal, if the accumulation of wealth is all that interests us, then it is all the reward that we will get. Any wealth we have must be put to good use in the corporal works of mercy by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and so on. You see, the rich need the poor to get into heaven just as much as the poor need the rich to get out of the hell in which they live. The kingdom of God is our hope. Can we provide hope for those who need help? Can we be the messengers of hope?

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