Homily – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

For the last several Sundays we have been reflecting on the idea of being “lights,” “shining forth” and sharing goodness with our world.  This coming week, the Church will celebrate feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the official end to the Christmas season, even though most folks have “put away” Christmas a while back.  But of course, while we do the material putting away of Christmas; we should never “put away” the spiritual side of this wonderful season.

For Jesus’ first followers and disciples, “being a light” meant more than following him around the country—from one small town to another.  It meant more than watching him do good to and for others.  At one point, the expectation was that they and us, by extension would do as Jesus had done.

Moving forward, Jesus will be grooming his disciples in the art of discipleship.  We have gone through the Christmas season “resting” a bit at the crib, taking in the joy we found there, but we saw, all too soon, that we were confronted with the adult Jesus being baptized and moving into his mission.  So friends, the resting period is over as we see in Zephaniah, our first reading today—we are exhorted to basically, “get up and get moving.”

Zephaniah is a little known prophet, but a prophet just the same, Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant tells us.  He puts a bit of the fear of God into us in his exhortations and yet he shows us the mercy of God too.  Because the reading is taken from two different places, he is able to lay out the problem for us—“you must have a change of heart” and the solution or answer comes with a bit of comfort. Zephaniah lets us know today that our God expects us to be faithful to the covenant made with God, but also that God understands that we are weak and will always extend mercy—God only expects that we keep after the task of truly being a believer and thus living out our belief through our actions.

All the readings today, including Psalm 146, speak of a God who wishes to be there for the lowly, the downtrodden and the poor.  We should not wonder then, when we feel called to lend a hand to those who have less than the necessities in this life.

I am presently reading the third volume in the trilogy by Blanche Wiesen Cook on Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1934, Eleanor had this to say:

“To deny any part of a population the opportunities for more enjoyment in life, for higher aspirations is a menace to the nation as a whole.  There has been too much concentrating wealth, and even if it means that some of us have got to learn to be a little more unselfish about sharing what we have…I think the day of selfishness is over; the day of really working together has come…all of us, regardless of race or creed or color.  We must wipe out any feeling…of intolerance, of belief that any one group can go forward alone.  We all go ahead together, or we go down together.”

This could have been written today it seems to me.  Furthermore, all of us can find ourselves in the categories of “lowly, downtrodden and poor” at times in our lives as “poverty” comes, if not in body—in material ways, certainly in mind and spirit.

Very specifically,  Psalm 146 lifts up the physically poor, the widows and the children—those who really had no standing within the psalmist’s culture and calls attention to their plight, crying out for justice and mercy for them in God’s name.   The question comes to us then—who are the poor and downtrodden in our midst?

This past weekend, nearly 5 million people, women, men and children gathered in large and small groups around our country and world to be part of the Women’s March on Washington.  Those who couldn’t actually get to our nation’s capital, gathered in their own cities or cities nearby in solidarity with women and their loved ones marching in Washington to give our new president a clear message that he must be a leader who cares about the needs of the less fortunate–that he can’t discriminate against people of color, immigrants, nor ignore the voices of our LGBTQIA community, women and children—that he must respect the needs of all, not just the rich.

There was a piece moving its way on Facebook this past week too of a woman who stated that she personally didn’t see a need for the Women’s March and another woman took her on and basically said and I paraphrase, “You know, I’m probably a lot like you—I have everything I need and she named several things; secure home, food, car, the luxury of stopping for a $4 latte at her favorite coffee shop and so on—you get the picture. She then went on to say to this doubter of the need for a march that she was marching for all those who couldn’t march and who fall far below what is needed to live comfortably and without fear, especially now, under a Trump administration that plans to gut many of the programs that raise subsistence living above poverty level as well as social programs that protect women and children from violence in their own homes.”

As we reflect then on what our mission as Jesus’ followers calls us to, a few more questions—are we aware of who is without a home in our community—of who is jobless among us?  Serving our community through the February Home Delivered Meals, Catholic Worker suppers and our monthly collection of groceries for Winona Volunteer Services’ Food Shelf are all ways that we can address these needs a bit.  Thinking about who is hungry, homeless, without work, and why, are tough questions and the answers to solve these problems are even tougher, but we must all look at them if we are to be true followers of Jesus.  The knowledge that people are on the streets should bring us a bit of discomfort, especially during the winter if we are going to call ourselves Christians.  The newly opened Winona Community Warming Center is a wonderful example of beginning to answer this concern.  Have you yet made your call to see if there are ways you can help? God, give each of us the strength and wisdom to find ways to help.

Earlier I stated that Jesus will be grooming us in the next weeks in the fine art of discipleship, basically calling us to action. We really aren’t left off the hook in any of the readings today.  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see him tipping cultural thought on its head, much the same way as Jesus often did.

This reading really calls us to right-thinking. It calls us to justice in our own respective lives and the lives of others in our present day, just as it did in the time of Paul.   He challenges his hearers, and that includes us, to realize that God lifts up the lowly and does not count worth by what we’ve accumulated in life, but by how we have cared for all the people, seeing that the hungry have food, shelter and clothing—that all children and adults have the opportunity for education—the hope to dream for better days.  Paul does indeed flip cultural thought on its head, saying that it’s those that this world sees as foolish that God sees as wise.

This counter-culture view continues in our gospel from Matthew today.  Clearly, we are told in the Beatitudes that what this world lifts up as good is opposite of what God thinks. It is not the powerful who will ultimately have power, but the poor on this earth—those physically, emotionally and spiritually poor.  Those who sorrow now will be consoled—those who hunger and thirst for justice will receive it—those who have been shown no mercy will have it—those who haven’t been understood and have been persecuted, will, see God. We truly are challenged in the ways of mercy, justice and care for all and to sharing as we are able. Mr. President and your Cabinet, take heed!

Earlier, I said that “following” Jesus was about more than accompanying him on his journeys.  It was, for the apostles, and is for us a matter of changing our way of thinking—all are worthy—all are welcome—changing our hearts really, and showing it by the way we do in fact welcome, invite and spend time with people.  The opportunity of sharing a meal at the Catholic Worker House came to the group that I am part of from our parish this past week—always a reminder to me to be grateful for all that I have.  If you haven’t yet volunteered at the Catholic Worker and would like to, let me know and I will get you connected—we have three groups now, but could always use a fourth!

“By their fruits” Jesus said, ‘you will know them.’  Being a learner, a disciple-in-training, as it were, means asking Jesus when we don’t have all the answers.  It will call us to humility, to being open and willing to learn new things or unlearn old habits. I believe if we always remember that Jesus came for the weak, the lowly, the seemingly foolish, we will find our way to the service God/Jesus wants us to be doing.

The Beatitudes then, inflict our minds and hearts today with questions—some that came to me are:  How do we manage the goods of this earth—if there is anyone who is hungry in our world, do I feel any responsibility for that?  If there are children in this country who don’t receive an adequate education—aren’t those children my children?  If people are homeless in this great country of ours and I know that there are, is my conscience bothered over that?  Does it upset me that there is war—far too much war in our world—far too little peace?  Why is there war in the first place? Am I a student of history?

Eleanor Roosevelt was a student of peace in the early years of the 20th Century and throughout her life, always believing till her dying day, being so influential in forming the United Nations, that there were better ways to settle differences than through war.

Being a student of history allows me to know and understand the root causes of war so that I can be part of the change I so desperately want to see?  I would invite all of us to ponder these questions and be part of the conversation going forward.

Let our president and Congress know when their actions don’t reflect the needs of all the people.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We all rise together or we fall together.”  It is what Jesus prayed for on the eve of his death—that all would be one.  He left us the gift of the Eucharist so that we would know in no uncertain terms that we are loved and cared for. We must have a change from within in order to really be a true follower—true disciple of Jesus.  Fr. Richard Rohr said the same in something I read from him this past week.  I look forward to the work of our community this next year and all of us discerning together God’s continual call in our lives.  May God bless us all in this endeavor.