These days I can’t seem to read the scriptures
without hearing the Word of God
speaking directly to what’s going on
in our country and our world,
and I find myself looking for some much-needed comfort there.
Take that first reading,
where Zephaniah writes about God’s concern for the anawim,
The part we heard skips from the 3rd verse of chapter 2
to the 12th verse of chapter 3.
More than a chapter is left out,
a long and vivid description
of what happens to people who oppress the poor.
The verses we do hear today
tell about the goodness of the survivors
and the peace that will come to them.
We are reminded
that God is in charge.
It gives us hope,
lifts us up in the face of today’s news.
But how long before this peace comes?
How much more do we have to endure?
Then we listen to Psalm 146,
with its message of hope and assurance of promise.
God will give us justice, food, and freedom.
God will protect the vulnerable.
And then there’s the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,
pieces of which will be our gospel reading
for five more Sundays after today.
The sermon begins today with the Beatitudes.
Scholars say that three of these beatitudes
were almost certainly formulated by Jesus—
the ones addressed to the poor, the hungry, and the mourners.
They also say that the original meaning of the beatitudes
is closer to the way Luke phrased them,
referring to the distress people suffered
from social and economic conditions in the first century.
The beatitudes speak to us
of the serious problems in today’s topsy-turvy world.
Blessed are the poor, they say.
But where is this blessing?
Earlier this month Oxfam issued its annual report on poverty,
pointing to eight men whose wealth
is equal to the total wealth of 3.6 billion people—
the poorest half of the earth’s population.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said:
“It is obscene for so much wealth
to be held in the hands of so few
when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day.
Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty;
it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.”
The Oxfam report details how big business and the super-rich
are fueling the inequality crisis
by dodging taxes,
driving down wages,
and using their power to influence politics.
The Beatitudes go on: Blessed are the hungry.
How can that be?
The United Nations estimates
that about 795 million of the 7.3 billion people in the world—
that’s 1 in 9—
suffer from chronic undernourishment.
About 21,000 people die every day
of hunger or hunger-related causes.
That’s one person every four seconds, most often children.
In the 20 minutes since Mass started this afternoon,
300 people have starved to death.
And hunger is not just a problem in other countries.
Here in America, 49 million people
struggle to put food on the table
because of poverty.
How will they be satisfied?
Blessed are they who mourn.
That’s all of us who care.
We mourn for ourselves and our neighbors,
for the oppressed and vulnerable among us.
We mourn for our planet
and for the species that are becoming extinct.
We mourn for our children and grandchildren
who will suffer from the impact of climate change.
We mourn over the denial of truth from our government leaders.
We mourn over the loss of regulations and programs
that have sought to protect the most vulnerable among us.
With all that, the gospel tells us that we will be comforted.
Who’s going to lift all these people out of poverty?
Who’s going to feed them?
Who’s going to comfort them?
When’s it going to happen?
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us the answer.
It’s in his advice on how to end
the falsehood and greed and injustice in our world.
We hear that God calls us to stand up for justice,
and that our efforts, however small they are,
will bring shame
to those who follow the ways of the world
and worship its power.
So, yes, there is comfort in the face of all of this.
People caught in hopeless situations
manage to hold on in spite of it all.
The world has seen devastation and disaster before.
The specter of nuclear catastrophe and planetary destruction
makes the stakes higher,
but the reign of God is at hand.
We will prevail because, as Paul says,
we will do no wrong
and speak no lies.
We will go forward doing what we are called to do—
speaking truth and doing justice.
It’s not easy these days, given the times we’re in,
but God is with us on the way.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43606
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006