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September 9, 2018 - God Chose the Poor to be Rich in Faith

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings 

Perhaps many of you know that I spent most of last week in El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico, on an immersion experience of the immigration crisis, along with 15 other priests. Our goal was to understand the immigration issue in depth, to express solidarity with the immigrants, to visit them at the various refugee shelters in El Paso and Juarez, and to pray at the border with Bishop Mark Sietz of El Paso along with other religious leaders. 

It is not possible for me in these few minutes to capture my experience in any detail. I will probably write in detail later. However, here is what was truly amazing. On my flight back, I read the readings for the weekend to prepare a homily. I have to confess. The word of God has never spoken more powerfully to me.   

1. God Chose the Poor to be Rich in Faith. James concludes today’s first reading by saying, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom hat he promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5). The most important thing I learnt from the detained immigrants is this – that they have lost their families, their home, their land, the belongings, and their dignity… but they have not lost their faith. I met very poor and deprived people over the last week; people, whose faith puts my faith to shame. They believe in the God of Isaiah who says in today’s first reading, “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you” Is 35:4).They believe that just as God saved God’s people in Egypt, and just as Jesus set us free from our sins, God will save them. This I believe, that as always, God is on the side of the poor. So, must I. Whether I am in the confessional or at the border, God calls me to the tell people, ““Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” 

2. God is Not Partial. Last week, we heard James say, “Religion that is pure in the eyes of God the Father is this – to care for the widows and the orphan, and to remain unstained in the world” (James 1:27). This week he says, if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? These days, I am examining my own attitudes. Because I am one of those people who makes distinctions. I am one of those people who welcomes the rich and powerful and discards the weak and poor. I am one of those people who judges wrongly. I am one of those who needs conversion. “Dear God, please forgive me for being partial in my judgements.”  

3. Breaking Barriers, Not Making Them. In the gospel reading, Jesus is in the region of the Decapolis. There he healed a deaf and mute man. On the periphery this seems to be a very benign act, just another one of Jesus’ healings. But the readers of Mark’s time knew that there were details in the story that carried deep meaning. Decapolis was pagan territory. This means that most probably, this man was a pagan. Risking every purity law, Jesus reached out, touched his ears, touched his tongue, and healed him. Jesus was the healer not only of this man, but the healer of people and divisions. While at the border, I held the hands of another man on the other side of the barrier. Like Jesus, I want to be the one who sees communion more than barriers. Like Jesus, I want to bring people together than separate them.   

What do you think, God is saying to you through these readings? What will you do? I hope the Spirit of God inspires each one of us to “think like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and act like Jesus.”  

- Fr. Satish Joseph