The Gospel of Poverty

Homily for January 29, 2017, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Year A.

Bible Study: Zephaniah 2:3-3:13. 1st Corinthians 1:26-31 and Matthew 5, 1 to 12

In an age and time like ours where in the Gospel of Prosperity has taken centre stage, our readings today propose a different Gospel; a Gospel that not many preachers would like to talk about, yet a Gospel Jesus not only preached, but lived out as an example for us all – it is the Gospel of Poverty which may also be referred to as the Gospel of loss. It is a Gospel that encourages us to let go rather than to grab, a Gospel that talks about building mansions in heaven rather than on earth, a Gospel that calls us to rejoice in the midst of persecution rather than think of how to kill our enemies.

The beatitudes is essentially a Gospel of Poverty. Each quality Jesus speaks about entails having to let go of something. To be poor in spirit basically means we have to let go our natural human pride and ego. As St. Paul puts it in our second reading, it is choosing to be nothing instead of something, it is deciding to be weak rather than proving to others that you are strong. It is boasting in God rather than in yourself. Being poor in spirit entails that I, as a minister refuse to deify myself, that I refuse to put my picture in the church signboard or poster, that I refuse to allow people give testimonies in my name, that I refuse to allow people wear a picture of me on their necks rather than the picture of Jesus or Mary.

To mourn means we let go of our ever-pressing desire for happiness and pleasure. In a society like ours, mourning would mean choosing to remain a virgin or refraining from pre-marital and extra-marital affairs. To be meek is to let others have their way instead of putting ourselves first. As Zephaniah tells us in our first reading, it is deliberately seeking out humility. It is choosing to take refuge in the name of God rather than trying to make others see us as powerful or connected.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to let go of our craving to satisfy our bodily need for food, housing, clothing and wealth; it is knowing that man shall not live by bread alone but everything that comes from the mouth of God. Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4. Also it is seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Matthew 6:33. The Gospel of prosperity on the other hand proclaims that we seek first an earthly kingdom of unlimited wealth, a kingdom of instant gratification, a kingdom of private jets, latest fashion, expensive gadgets and so on.

To be merciful is to let go of our desire to retaliate when others hurt us; it is loving our enemies. Being merciful is letting go of that tendency to live only for ourselves and reaching out to those not as privileged as we are. It is letting go of that natural desire to be selfish. It is treating all humans as equal regardless of their financial status. The Gospel of prosperity basically divides the church into the haves and the have-nots. Those who have made it whether by hook or crook are treated as saints and heroes, called upon to give testimonies while those who don’t have money are treated as sinners or those in need of deliverance.

To be pure in heart is to let go of the pleasure we enjoy by contemplating evil and immoral thoughts. Being pure in heart is not just refraining from thinking about immorality, it is also dressing in a manner that does not provoke others to think of immoral things. If you don’t cover your body properly, you become a tool for Satan because he uses you to bring about temptation in the heart of that brother or sister that is looking at you. To be pure in heart requires a lot of sacrifice in this age and time and the Gospel of prosperity fails to help matters, people now dress indecently to church just to hear motivational speeches rather than messages that would lead them to repentance.

To be a peacemaker is to let go of your natural tendency to fight back and crush those who seek to deny you of your rights, your power or your possessions. In the second reading of last week, St. Paul told us about the evil of quarrelling among Christians. When we are angry, the easiest thing to do is to pick up a quarrel or stop talking to the person who has hurt us but Jesus is saying we should take the more difficult road instead; seek to make peace. This entails letting go of our pride, letting go of our desire to prove that we are right, letting go of our desire to win every argument. Honestly, making peace is painful. It is hard yet it is the best way. If you quarrel with everybody, how will the world be to you?

Lastly, Jesus talks about the blessedness of persecution. I have seen videos of how Christians are lined up and slaughtered like chickens. It really makes my heart bleed. But I don’t understand why ministers of the Gospel forget the words of Jesus and start preaching on the pulpit that Christians should start killing people from the north. This is just the effect of the Gospel of prosperity. Such ministers have built their faith on an earthly kingdom and are so comfortable with their rich lifestyles that they forget heaven still exists. They have forgotten that martyrdom is a safe passage to heaven and that even Jesus himself did not struggle for independence when his own people were under the Roman rule. I think this is a time for us Christians to rejoice and be glad just as Jesus has said. Yes, if I get to die under the knife of the Islamic jihadists, I would be the happiest person ever.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, help me find freedom by letting go completely. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.

Fr. Abu.

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