Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Luke 6.17, 20-26

“How happy are you who are poor”

It seems an unlikely beginning to a sermon, but that is what Jesus said. He spoke of four blessings and four woes: happy are the poor, those who are hungry, those who weep, those who are rejected on account of me. In contrast, alas for those who are rich, those who have their fill, those who laugh, those who are held in high esteem in the eyes of the world. The contrast is stark, but on the face of it, also worrying.

What Jesus says here contradicts the values of a society that says happiness lies in what you have, in what you do, and in what others think of you. He challenges us to assess our own life values. It is all too easy to half-hear his words and leave it at that – surely we are not expected to take them seriously? Is Jesus advocating a policy of cultivating poverty and suffering now for the sake of some future happiness? Is he threatening eternal doom to those who have enough to eat and who are able to laugh?

Surely not. Poverty, hunger, suffering, injustice – these are things the followers of Jesus are committed to eradicating. Yet it was precisely to the poor, sick, sinners, rejects, and marginalized that Jesus reached out as a priority. After all, did he not reveal to us that he had come “to set the downtrodden free”? In God’s kingdom, where the most vulnerable are given pride of place, the values of the world are turned upside down.

And what of those who have plenty? The message is clear. If you set your heart primarily on what the world values – riches, pleasure, status, and so on – you may well gain them, but do they bring true and lasting happiness? Do your value as a person and your true happiness really depend on your belongings, activities and social position? Instead, says Jesus, if you set your heart on the values of the kingdom – truth, love, justice, peace and reconciliation – you may not gain all that this world can offer, but you are touching into the very essence of true, lasting and eternal happiness.