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November 11, 2018 - The Invitation to be Poor

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

There are two stories in today’s reading and they both involve poor widows. In the first story, Elijah, as he flees from his murderous enemies, seeks refuge with a poor widow. The story tells us that she and her son had only and handful of flour and a little oil left. They were desperately poor. The second story tells us about Jesus’ admiration of a poor widow who “from her poverty” (Mk 12:44), put in two small coins into the treasury. The two coins were all she had. These two thought-provoking stories. 

Here are my three points for reflection.   

1. The Virtue of Poverty. Invitation to be Poor. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the poor find a very special mention. The Hebrew people were slaves when God chose to rescued them. Mary, the mother of Jesus was a poor girl from a poor family. Jesus himself was poor. He was born in a stable, fled as a migrant-refugee, and lived the life of an itinerant. When he was born, it was the poor shepherds to whom the good news of his birth was announced. When he began his ministry, Jesus ministered to the poorest and the underserved of them all. In his teaching, Jesus lifted up the poor - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3). Luke puts it even more starkly and speaks directly to the poor - “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:23). When I look at myself, I realize that am not poor. I am not rich; but I certainly am not poor. If the prophet Elijah was looking for respite today, would he come to my house? And why? Of all the people gathered in this church today, who would Christ take notice of? Will be it me, you, or the person sitting next to me? And why? One thing is clear – God always approaches the poor. Here is something to think about! In the gospels, poverty is a virtue. Today’s readings and indeed all of scripture invite us to be poor and poor in spirit. 

2. The Richness of the Poor. Our society has a very skewed way of understanding richness and poverty. Let me share an example of the gospel meaning of poverty. When in the seminary, we had to work with daily wage earners for a week and make a living. Three of us decided to work with daily wagers, manually laying water pipes. Three of us worked alongside a woman, whose infant played in the dirt all day. It turned out that because I broke an equipment, at the end of the day, not only was the cost of the equipment deducted from our wage, but we had to pay whatever money we had in our pockets to cover the cost. The woman who was watching the drama from the side, felt bad for us, and invited us home for dinner. We politely tried to refuse, but she insisted. Her home was a shanty by the roadside with no floor and a thatched roof. There were no tables or chairs. She went outside her little tent, lit the firewood she had collected and cooked some rice and lentils. We knew from the beginning that that was not enough food for the five of us. When dinner was served, she would not sit with us. She said that she and her son would eat after the guests were gone. We knew the real reason – she had barely enough to feed the three of us. We insisted that all of us eat together. Finally, from one plate, the five of us ate the little we had.  Believe me that was the most unhygienic food I ever had. But it is also the richest banquet that I have ever had. From society’s this woman is among the poorest of the poor. In the gospel, she is the woman who would get noticed by Jesus. She is like the widow in today’s first reading. There is something holy about the ‘richness of the poor’ and the ‘poverty of those who are rich.’ That is why I said earlier that today’s gospel invites us to be poor.  

3. What Is Christian Poverty? Here, then, is the most important question: “What does it mean to be poor or poor in spirit?” What is gospel poverty? First of all, poverty is not to be mistaken with misery. The gospel does not extoll misery, but rather poverty and simplicity.  To be poor in spirit means to acknowledge that everything I am and have belongs to God. To be poor or poor in spirit means that I make all that I have available to God! To be poor and poor in spirit means that I recognize that I am only as rich as the poorest person around me. To be poor means that I am able to enter into the lives of the poorest of the poor and find myself there. To be poor means to assign dignity to every human person immaterial of their wealth, power, race, or status. 

The Eucharist is a lesson in poor and poverty of spirit. To be poor or poor in spirit is to be like Jesus in the Eucharist.

- Fr. Satish Joseph