Friday, January 9, 2009

Love the poor

[These are some thoughts based on the readings from Mass on Thursday, January 8]

1 Jn 4:19–5:4
Lk 4:14-22

We hear in our Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus "unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor...and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." This passage is a sort of New Year's resolution that Jesus puts forth for us. For this year ahead, Jesus calls us to bring glad tidings to the poor and to proclaim a year that is acceptable to the Lord.

What does this mean exactly? Well, it ties in well with our first reading from the First Letter of Saint John. Saint John doesn't pull any punches with us today. He says it straight out: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."

There is no getting around that. Saint John is saying very concretely, don't even try and tell me you love God if you don't love our brother and sister. This has everything in the world to do with the poor.

Our society does not like the poor. We blame the poor. We scapegoat the poor. We ignore and marginalize the poor, but we certainly don't as a society love the poor. We say, "It is their fault that they are poor," or "They should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Our society certainly doesn't like to think of the poor as their responsibility. In fact, if you want to get people up in arms, suggest using taxes to help the poor.

But, look at our beautiful nativity set. You know, nativity scenes are a bit of a contradiction. Especially the sets we usually have in churches. They are large and beautiful and extraordinarily expensive. But, what do they commemorate? Well, they are the most expensive scene that honors homelessness that I've ever seen. Imagine someone spending thousands of dollars to purchase a depiction of someone sleeping under a cardboard box in a doorway. And yet, that is what we have in every nativity scene.

Jesus was born, literally, as a homeless person. "There was no room for them in the inn." If that wasn't difficult enough, within days of his homeless birth, Jesus becomes a refugee on the road to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod who wanted to kill him.

Now would we ever deign to say of the Holy Family that it was there fault that they were homeless? I'm not going to help them! Those refugees should just go back to where they come from; they are not my problem!

I'm sure in your heart you are thinking, "No, I would never say that to Jesus or the Holy Family." And why wouldn't you? Because in your heart you know that this family is your family. That Jesus is your brother and you would reach out to him.

And this is the whole point of it. "If anyone says, 'I love God' but hates his brother, he is a liar." You would reach out to Jesus because you recognize Him as your brother. What Jesus calls us to is a recognition that our baptism has literally born us into a family, the family of God. This is a family that includes everyone. And so, the challenge of our faith is that when we see that homeless person under the cardboard in the doorway to recognize them the very same way we recognize Christ - as our brother.

Jesus had something else to say about this, "When Lord did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick or in prison and minsiter to your needs? And he will say, When you did this for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me."

"This is the commandment we have from Him: Whoever loves God, must also love his brother."

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