Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 2019
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
“To be happy with a man, understand him a lot, love him a little. To be happy with a woman, love her a lot, don’t try to understand her at all.” Happiness or contentment is the ultimate desire of every heart so many of such theories of how to attain happiness in life abound. We do what will bring us happiness.
However, the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not always bring true and lasting happiness. For instance, the drunkard believes that happiness is found in the bottle. But one drink too many, he runs a red light, hits a car and wakes up on a hospital bed with broken limbs and stitches. Then, it begins to dawn on him that the happiness promised by alcohol may be too short-lived.
In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus makes prescriptions for lasting happiness that are clearly countercultural – at variance with the prevailing social norm.
He says “How happy are you who are poor…” (the world would more likely say “Happy are you who are rich”).
He says “Happy you who are hungry …” (the world would more likely say “Happy you who are feasting …”).
He says “Happy you who weep …” (the world would certainly say “Happy you who are having fun…”).
And where he says “Happy are you when people hate you….” the world would most likely say “Happy are you when people love you ….”
It is hard to reconcile these teachings with the values of the society in which we live and which we are used to.
Presenting the poor as happy and the rich as unfortunate appears like a contradiction. Does the Church not always condemn the world’s poverty and do many churches not preach prosperity?
However, we can appreciate the message of Jesus in two ways.
First, he is commending simplicity of life which means freedom from all sorts of worldly attachments. This can be considered a voluntary kind of poverty which contrasts with the worldly who covetously enriches himself even at the expense of others thereby leaving the world worse for all including himself. In this sense, those who weep include those who feel pain at the wrongs and injustices of the world.
On the other hand, Jesus says that the poor are happy because the kingdom of God is theirs. Yet, it is not just about a future life, it is also in the sense of the godly society which he died working to achieve; the society envisaged in his mission statement where he stated that he has been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19).
There is only good news for the poor and the hungry in such godly society that will protect and care for them. It is still a long way to go in making it a reality but we all have a part to play towards the full realization of such society.
This is the mission of the Church hence the Gospel addresses especially the disciples of Jesus; those who have identified themselves fully with his mission and vision of life. Because it is countercultural, to be a child of this kingdom entails a radical change in the way we see life and its values, trusting in God who choose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise and what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1Cor. 1:28).
Ultimately, there would be no rich or poor in the godly society; there wouldn’t be those who have more than they need at the expense of others or those stripped of human dignity because of deprivation for those who have more will share with those who don’t have enough. Human dignity is a right hence it’s not just a question of doing them a favour or giving from one’s surplus but one of justice.
When human dignity is compromised, everybody ultimately suffers. Crime and other anti-social behaviours increase the more a society is deprived and all suffer the consequences especially the rich who have more to lose.
It wasn’t coincidental that Jeremiah in the First Reading foresaw a curse on those who put their trust in anything other than God. There is a message there for the rich who, counting on their wealth, sometimes feel too independent and no need for God and godliness.
There is always a costly price for ordering our lives according to anything else other than God since we are naturally wired (programmed) for God. When we order our lives on God, when we live godly, we are safe because as Jeremiah further prophesied, we are “like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, it is undisturbed in the year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit.”
Quite instructively, it never suggests the absence of challenges (heat and drought) as some are scammed into believing. These would come but the godly person is enabled to overcome.
Today, scientific studies demonstrate how people of faith overcome more compared to those of none when faced with life crises. Ninety-nine percent of those who survived the Hurricane Katrina in America were found to have used some degree of positive religious coping – a secure relationship with God, a sense of spiritual connectedness with others, and a benevolent (loving and caring) spirit.