Fr Francis Afu Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
What do we mean when we say man is free? Do we mean he is free to do or say whatever he likes, when he likes and how he likes? What is freedom? Without getting into any philosophical discourse on freedom, we could narrow our understanding of freedom to that of the Christian worldview. For us, freedom is always that inner capacity to let go of all that holds us back from being who we are so that we can live for God and become the person He created us to be.
No doubt, for many of us, there is always that tension “to be”, that is to live. We aren’t too sure how to live and why we live. We seem to be caught up in the web of ideologies, many that tell us there is no need for God. Man is the measure of all things. Can’t we see, he has developed the fastest automobile! He has the best medical skills. He can unravel great mysteries. Religion has had its day. Now, man is the centre. He is the truth. He is the way. He is god. Trust him.
While these ideologies may appear to be foreign to many of us, they are having sweeping effects in society. They are influencing our constitutions, changing our laws and even defining how we live and who we are. There is no gainsaying the fact that many of us react to religion, to faith and to the whole God-talk with this mindset. This isn’t something new. The Israelites have their own story to tell. In the First Reading from Jeremiah 17: 5-8, the prophet gives clues.
Without saying it, he gives it away when he says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord”. For we know, Jeremiah is the prophet of hope. His name, Jeremiah, “the Lord exalts” speaks of his mission. So, for him, to denounce his people, even to the point of using a word like “curse”, tells us how deep Israel had fallen. Israel, God’s son has fallen from “grace to grass”. “He has fallen into himself”.
That is, he is obsessed with himself. He is too full of himself. He is closed. Nothing can’t come in anymore. If nothing can come in, then there are three possibilities. First, he ends up using all that he is filled with, he becomes empty, or in the words of the prophet, “He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come”. Second, he becomes toxic, “an uninhabited salted land”, coded words for poison. Finally, he becomes, lonely, depressed and self-harming.
Does this strike a chord? Can we begin to understand that this is happening in society today? Can we understand now why the man of hope, the man who is meant to exalt Israel, God’s son, began to denounce him? It is this background that sets the stage for Jesus’ sermon on the plain. Unlike Matthew, Luke portrays Jesus as a friend of sinners. He is a friend of those who have lost their way. Typical of friends, they come down to the level of their friends in need.
Thus, it was appropriate that Luke presents Jesus giving His sermon on the plain, where He is on the same level with His friends. Where He could look into their eyes and tell them, I know what is going on. Trust me! I can see how it is going to end. You don’t have to keep going in that direction. Take advantage of your gift of freedom. Let go of all those ideologies that make you think you are god. You are merely a creature. You can’t save yourself. You need me.
In Luke 6: 20, he gives another detail that is very powerful, “Then fixing His eyes on His disciples He said…” Why this detail? Luke is drawing the disciples to the person of Christ. He is telling them, this Man, Christ takes interest in them. He is trustworthy. Can you see, by fixing His eyes on His disciples, He is inviting them, offering them an opportunity to search Him out, to know Him! What other proof do you require to accept that this Man is dependable?
So, Luke has today’s Gospel reading telling us something about Jesus before he told us what Jesus preached. In other words, our priority should be in knowing the Son of God. Because by knowing Him, we come to know ourselves. We become truly free and can let go of all lies, since He is the Truth, revealing the Father, and revealing us; He is the Way not only to the Father, but to our self-realisation and self-actualisation; He is the Life we are called to live.
How we live this life became the focus of Jesus’s sermon on the plain. He began by asking us, “How happy are the poor”. Unlike, Matthew, Luke doesn’t qualify the poor, which gives the impression that Jesus meant those who were materially poor and those who were spiritually poor. Now, the common denominator about the poor is their sense of dependence. So, by being materially poor, we learn how to depend on others, to break barriers and to reach out to them.
Christ wants us to learn this lesson. For the poor aren’t closed, they aren’t full of themselves. They are humble enough to ask, to seek the other and to trust. They are humble enough to accept God’s friendship. They have nothing to lose, so they can take risk. They can love freely. This is the freedom Jesus wants us to experience by being poor. He is not justifying poverty, neither is He condemning wealth, reward for hard work. But He is showing us the Way to live.
It is the Way of being poor of the self so that we can be filled with Christ. It is the Way of living out what St. Paul said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me”. It is the Way of “trusting the Lord with all our heart, without relying on our own insight” (Proverbs 3:5) especially when the odds are against us. Living this Way helps us to hunger for God. It helps us to be weep, to be uncomfortable with evil. It helps us to rejoice in the face of trials.
Fr. Francis Afu
St Nicholas Catholic Parish Community
Tamworth NSW 2340 AUSTRALIA