homily – February 11

Haves and Have nots

On Tuesday when the staff was reflecting on today’s readings someone mentioned that Jeremiah wrote his words about 500 years before Christ and Luke wrote about the year 70, 30 years after the death of Christ – quite a stretch of time, yet Jeremiah’s message resonates with Luke’s; people who put their trust in mere mortals, people who think that riches and position and power are what it’s all about, people who see these as their sufficiency, their security, are in for a surprise. Jeremiah uses a biblical image of what we call tumbleweed – to describe such people. They are rootless and without direction, rolling through the desert, driven by whatever wind that blows.

People who put their trust in God and see their personal relationship with God – which involves a just and loving relationship with others – as something of first importance, they are like trees planted by a running stream – untouched by scorching heat or drought, always bearing fruit.

When Luke recorded what Jesus taught, 500 years after Jeremiah; blessed are the poor, blessed are the oppressed and the distressed – forgive your enemies, pray for those who persecuted them, turn the other cheek – people’s reaction was ‘you got to be kidding’? What do you mean blessed are the poor – the poor are losers – what do you mean ‘woe to you rich’ – we’ve always been taught riches are a sign of God’s favor.

From the beginning of his public life, which began in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus meant to turn mindsets and value systems upside down. God sent Jesus into the world to bring new news, good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, proclaim liberty to captives, set the downtrodden free. Jesus meant to reverse the mindsets of his time – that the poor were losers, the rich were favored by God.

Things don’t change – 500 years between Jeremiah and Jesus – 2000 years between Jesus and our time and still things are the same. Today there are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Then as now the ‘haves’ often have what they have as the expense of the ‘have nots’, the working poor, the undeserving poor, good men and women struggling to get by on an inadequate minimum wage, working at two or three jobs just to get by.

Jeremiah and Jesus didn’t condemn ‘having’. Their concern was, does what you have, have you? Do you own the car, the house, the job, the career, and the investments – or do they own you? Is there any place for God, any place for others, especially men and women who are the ‘have nots’, is there any place for them in your life?

If you’ve been reading the articles on poverty that have been in the Star these past weeks or the articles about the bonuses CEOs have received or the severance packages offered chief executives, doesn’t it boggle your mind?

I’m not into Catholic guilt – but shouldn’t we be bothered at the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, both here and around the world? Shouldn’t we be bothered with the fact that our North American society uses a disproportionate amount of Earth’s energy resources? Shouldn’t we be bothered by wasteful lifestyles? Shouldn’t we be bothered by our failure to live lightly on the Earth? Shouldn’t we be bothered by the truth that very often the clothes we wear, the food we eat come to us from the hard labor of the working poor and the sweat shops of the world? Shouldn’t we be bothered with the pittance that was just added to the minimum wage compared to the increase in salaries that other’s received?

Shouldn’t we be bothered with men and women sleeping on our city streets? Shouldn’t we be bothered with overextended food banks? Shouldn’t we be bothered with families who have no place to live? I don’t have any answers to the great social problems facing our city or the country, but shouldn’t we be bothered?

As we continue to celebrate this Mass maybe we can pray for ourselves and for each other for the grace to be bothered – and being bothered maybe we can do something to change our attitudes to what we have, and change our attitudes towards the ‘have nots’.