The heart of our faith is our relationship with Jesus. There is no other hallmark by which we can measure our progress and our standing with God’s will. Our faith is that simple: If we cannot relate our thoughts, attitudes, choices, and actions to our relationship with Jesus, then we are falling short.
But how do we know if we are doing that correctly? Well, Jesus gives us the measuring stick by which we can size up our relationship with Him, and we hear about it today in the Gospel. Jesus begins what is called in Luke’s gospel the “Sermon on the Plain.” It’s comparable to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, only much flatter. In this sermon, Jesus lays out the heart of His teaching on the nature of the Kingdom of God. Today, we hear Luke’s Beatitudes.
These Beatitudes differ from Matthew’s in that they are very concrete, rather than more spiritual. Jesus declares “blessed” those who are poor – materially poor, not “poor in spirit.” He also blessed the hungry, the weeping, the hated and rejected, the outcast and the abused. Luke also balances these out with a list of those who are not “blessed”: the rich, the satisfied, the laughing, the beloved, the celebrities, the comfortable, and the accepted. It is clear from these two lists which one Jesus prefers.
So, if we are to be in a good relationship with Jesus, what do we think we should be doing? Whom should we prefer? For whose rights and care should we be advocating? There is no candy coating this. When the “poor in spirit” are blessed, anyone could fall into that category – even the rich – provided they adopt the right spiritual attitude. However, when Jesus limits that to the materially poor, that group shrinks; people are excluded – in our world, important people are excluded – I might even be excluded!
There are definite implications to today’s Gospel. We are being called by Jesus to prefer the same people that He prefers: the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the outcasts and marginalized. This is the character of the Church. We are at our best – and at our closest to Jesus – when we are engaged in actions that choose the poor, hungry, and suffering. The good work of the Church throughout the world draws its strength from this preferential option for the vulnerable, and our credibility is most evident when we are associated with the “little guy.”
This is not always comfortable for us – particularly in a country and culture as rich and prosperous as ours. We are not necessarily being called to throw away all of our material blessings; however, as followers of Jesus we are being called to choose the side of the poor and the marginalized. Politically, this is not convenient; socially, it is not rewarding; however, spiritually, it is the only way to be. The heart of our faith is our relationship with Jesus – not some political platform or social policy. And Jesus has clearly chosen sides.
In the coming weeks, we will be given the opportunity to share Jesus’ concern for the needy through the Church of Baltimore’s support of Catholic Ministries throughout the Archdiocese. This annual campaign does so much good for precisely the people about whom Jesus speaks today: the poor and homeless who need meals at Our Daily Bread; the children assisted through the Baltimore Child Abuse Center; the immigrants who are helped by the Esperanza Center; the crisis pregnancy centers; the ministries to our youth; our older brothers and sisters who need affordable housing; and so many more. This appeal will be our chance to be Jesus blessing to these poor, hungry, sorrowing, and neglected brothers and sisters. And the friends of these people are the friends of Jesus.