(Sunday Homily) Jesus’ Promise: Free Food for Single Moms; Mansions for the Homeless

Ryan

Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 6: 1-7; PS 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; I PT 2: 4-9; JN 14: 1-12.

With last week’s passage of Trumpcare in the House of Representatives, one wonders what a “devout Catholic” like Paul Ryan is thinking. After all, Mr. Ryan’s health plan removes coverage from 24 million Americans while offering huge tax cuts to our country’s wealthiest. What God does he worship? What concept of Jesus’ Way does he have?

The question is pertinent because today’s liturgy of the word presents Jesus as identifying himself and his “Way” with knowledge of a God who would never support the House Speaker’s plan. Jesus says “I and the Father are one. Whoever has seen me has seen the father.”

Perhaps Mr. Ryan interprets that to mean that Jesus is God.

He shouldn’t. I mean, saying that Jesus is God presumes that we all know who God is. Actually, we don’t.

Oh, we can speculate. And theologians and philosophers throughout the world have done so interminably. Think of the Greeks and their descriptions of God as a supreme being who is all-knowing, omnipotent, and perfect. Such thinking leads to a concept of Jesus that is totally abstract and removed from life as we live it from day to day. That God is removed not only from the problems of healthcare, but from those of hunger and homelessness addressed in today’s readings.

Those selections do not say that Jesus is God, but that God is Jesus. It’s not that in seeing God one understands Jesus. It is that in seeing Jesus, one understands God. Jesus says, “He who sees me, sees the Father.”

The distinction is important. It literally brings us (and God) down to earth. It means that Jesus embodies God – inserts God into a human physique that we all can see and touch and be touched by.

If we take that revelation seriously, our gaze is directed away from abstract philosophical concepts that enable us to ignore life and the needs of the poor. We’re directed away from “heaven,” away from churches, synagogues, and mosques. Our focus instead becomes a God found on the street where Jesus lived among the imperialized, and the despised – the decidedly imperfect. In Jesus, we find God revealed in the offspring of an unwed teenage mother, among the homeless and immigrants (as Jesus was in Egypt), among Jesus’ friends, the prostitutes and untouchables, and on death row with the tortured and victims of capital punishment. That’s the God revealed in the person of Jesus.

Following the way and truth of that Jesus leads to the fullness of life the Master promises in today’s gospel reading. That fullness involved provision of food and shelter here and now. In fact, that’s been a recurrent theme in our liturgies of the word since Easter Sunday. Take, for instance, today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It shows us a faith community focused on providing food for single moms and their children. The first Christians worship a God who (as today’s responsorial puts it) is merciful before all else. That God, like Jesus, is trustworthy, kind, and committed to justice.

So we sang our response, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” In doing so, our thoughts should have been directed towards the corporal works of mercy which the church has hallowed through the ages. Do you remember them?  Feed the hungry, they tell us; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead, and shelter the homeless.

In fact, providing shelter – homes for the homeless – was so central for early Christians that it became a fundamental metaphor for the human relationship to God. (Remember those descriptions of early church life in ACTS 2:35 and 4:34, where homes and all property were shared in the primitive church.) So, today’s reading from First Peter describes the early community as a single house whose cornerstone is Jesus himself. Then in today’s gospel, John refers to Jesus’ Father as the one who provides a vast dwelling with many luxurious apartments. You can imagine how such images spoke to impoverished early Christians who would have been out on the street without the sharing of homes that was so important to early church life.

So don’t be fooled by the upside-down version of Christianity that allows politicians and those they trick to turn Jesus and his Way into some abstract after-life doctrine – that allows Jesus’ followers to turn their backs on the sick. That’s the comfortable ersatz faith that believes that Jesus is God. He is not.

Rather, God is Jesus. God is the one reflected in the lives and needs of the poor, the ill, and despised. With Jesus, the emphasis is on this world – on eating together, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, on elimination of poverty, and sharing all things in common. That was Jesus authentic Way – the one followed so faithfully by the early church focused on God’s mercy and the merciful acts it inspires. It should be our Way as well.

It is definitely not Paul Ryan’s way. Don’t allow him to claim that it is.

Pope Francis on Misplaced Safety Concerns: Where’s the Caution on Climate Change?

pope-refugees-2

The chances of a U.S. citizen being killed by a terrorist are slimmer than being struck by lightning. That remains true even after the Paris massacre of last November 13th.  In fact, according to The Economist, the chances of dying at the hands of terrorists are actually one in twenty million. So you’re far more likely to die from a car accident, airplane crash, post-surgery complications, or from gun violence than from terrorism.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of millions dying from the effects of climate change is about 97 in 100. That figure refers to the percentage of climate scientists who tell us that human inaction on the climate front will result in disastrous, planet-wide catastrophe.  (By the way, 97% is about the same percentage as medical researchers who say that smoking causes cancer.)

And yet, in the wake of the recent Paris massacre, politicians call for absolute caution about the acceptance of refugees while siding with the 3% of scientists denying human responsibility for climate change.

On the refugee question, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama put it this way, “If there’s even the slightest risk that they’re not the kind of people that we wish them to be,” we must exclude Iraqi and Syrian refugees from our state.

And Bentley is not alone. At least 31 governors (almost all of them Republican) have expressed similar determination to prevent refugees from entering their states. Governor Greg Abbot of Texas said, “I will not roll the dice and take the risk on allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger” of some refugee committing a terrorist act. “Better safe than sorry,” adds Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who describes himself as “a devout Catholic.”

The Catholic reference is important, because the position of Pope Francis is exactly the reverse of the Republicans’ who overwhelmingly identify themselves as fervent Christians. The pope has called for opening doors to refugees from Syria and Iraq.  He has reminded believers that Jesus himself was a refugee from state violence and that his mother experienced the same terror suffered by Iraqis, Syrians, Somalians and others.

Meanwhile, in his landmark encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis urged extreme caution about climate change. There he quotes the 1992 Rio Declaration on the climate crisis:

“. . . (W)here there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” (186).

So who’s right, Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues or Pope Francis?

That is, given the 1 in 20 million chance of being killed by a terrorist on the one hand, and the near certainty of millions dying from human-induced climate change on the other, is the pertinent popular phrase Ryan’s “Better safe than sorry?  Or is it “Penny wise and pound foolish?”

Perhaps it is both.

Think about that for a minute.

(Sunday Homily) The Parable of the Talents: Pope Francis as Drop-Out vs. Paul Ryan as Inside Investor

Pope & Rush

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: PRV 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31, PS 128: 1-5; I THES 5: 1-8; MT 25: 14-30. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm

Today’s gospel story, the familiar “Parable of the Talents,” is about economics. It’s about the world of investment and profit-taking without real work. It’s also about dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class.

The parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of others. The conformists go along with that system which to them has no acceptable alternative.

Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable refuses to go along. And he suffers the predictable consequences for doing so. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system represents the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.

In contemporary terms, today’s gospel selection could hardly be more pertinent. It contrasts two current understandings of the contested terrain that is today’s Christianity. One understanding endorses our polarized economic system where “everyone who has is given more so that they grow rich, while the have-nots are robbed even of what they have.”

That concept is embodied today in a “devout Catholic” like House budget chair, Paul Ryan. The other finds its personification in Pope Francis, the head of the church Ryan’s party has all these years relied on for support.

In sharp contrast to Ryan’s faith in the capitalist system, Pope Francis himself is trying mightily to drop out of it. He’s like the servant in today’s parable who buried his talent in the ground refusing to invest it in a corrupt system that invariably widens the gap between the rich, like Ryan, and the poor the pope is attempting to champion.

A year ago Ryan seemed to recognize the contradiction. Then his first response to the pope’s criticism of capitalism (in the apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”) was defensive and dismissive. Referring to the pope as “the guy,” he said “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.” Apparently Ryan meant that the pope doesn’t really understand the joys of the free market which the U.S.-backed generals shoved down Argentinian throats all during their infamous “dirty war” (1976-1983).

Lately though, a chastened Ryan has become more conciliatory. Last month he claimed that he and the pope are really on the same page. “I love this pope,” Ryan now says. “I’m a big fan of this pope. What he’s trying to do is he’s trying to invite lay Catholics into public policy, into a debate. He’s not trying to settle the debate. He’s trying to start the debate.”

More specifically, the congressman now reads the pope to be “down with a free market that means more participation. I think what he’s [against] is crony capitalism … where the powerful pick the winners and losers [and] influencing government gets to decide who wins and who loses in the marketplace.”

In other words, Ryan now holds that he and the pope are both “down with” the congressman’s own resistance to minimum wage increases, with his union-busting, and cuts to social security. All of these are proposed in Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future.”

For his part, Pope Francis couldn’t be clearer about rejecting the elements of Ryan’s “Roadmap.” As recently as October 28th, Francis urged action to secure the basic entitlements the poor deserve. These include rights to land, housing and work as well as to higher wages, unions and social security – all of which are abhorrent to Republicans.

Francis even connected being Catholic with communism. “It’s strange,” the pope said, that “if I talk about this, there are those who think that the Pope is Communist. . . The fact that the love for the poor is in the center of the gospel is misunderstood.” Fighting for the poor, he added, doesn’t make me a communist; it makes me Catholic.

Obviously, the statement suggests significant overlap between Marx’s critique of free market capitalism and the social teachings of the church. The pope’s words certainly don’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the free market.

And how should Catholics express their love for the poor? Clearly not by endorsing the dynamics of the free market Ryan and his real mentor, Ayn Rand, lionize. In the “Joy of the Gospel” (JG) – published a year ago at this time – the pope identifies the unfettered markets so dear to Rand’s and Ryan’s hearts (along with their “trickle-down” ideologies) as homicidal (JG 53), ineffective (54) and unjust at their roots (59). He sees “each and every human right” (including education, health care, and “above all” employment and a just wage (192) as intimately connected with “defense of unborn life” (213).

And it gets worse for Ryan’s position. His party, of course, loves the free trade agreements that are at the heart of the corporate globalization the pope deplores. One wonders how the congressman reconciles his advocacy of, for instance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the pope’s words at Cagliari, Sardinia on September 22 of 2013. Then the pope proclaimed, “We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm.”

These are not the statements of someone merely attempting to start a debate about capitalism as we know it. The debate is settled in the pope’s mind. He has condemned the system. And in doing so, Pope Francis has established himself (along with the Dali Lama) as the foremost moral leader of our time. He alone has the courage to call us away from the worship of Market and Money.

The alternative, he assures us, is not a world of darkness, weeping and grinding of teeth. It is a kingdom of light and joy.

It is time for Jesus’ would-be followers to join that conversation – about getting from here to there in the name of the gospel.

Sunday Homily: “Lazarus come forth!” Pope Francis Brings Jesus Back to Life

Lazarus

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: EZ 37: 12-14; PS 130: 1-8; ROM 8:8-11; JN 11: 1-45 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040614.cfm

A few weeks ago, Fortune Magazine identified Pope Francis as first among the World’s “Fifty Best Leaders.” President Obama did not even make the list. Bono and President Clinton were among the top ten.

Whatever the magazine’s reasons for selecting the pope, it’s clear that the “Francis Effect,” is real. Seventy-seven percent of Catholics say they have increased their church donations since the new pope took office. Francis has brought the Catholic Church back from the dead. More importantly, he has returned to life the Jesus of the gospels whom conservatives have long since hijacked and buried – the very one our world’s poor majority needs as never before.

That’s relevant this fifth Sunday of Lent where our readings have Ezekiel coining the highly political metaphor of God’s “raising the dead” to refer to Israel’s impending liberation from its own despair during its Babylonian Captivity. Ezekiel’s metaphor reappears in today’s gospel reading where John the evangelist’s presents his familiar parable about Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave where Jesus’ friend lay moldering for more than three days.

Consider the hopelessness of Ezekiel’s Israel. His sixth century was the saddest of times – the era of his nation’s Great Exile. The Hebrews had been defeated and humiliated by Babylon (modern day Iraq). Its leaders and a large portion of its populace had been abducted to that enemy state. The exiles felt as if they had been slaughtered culturally. They were far from home, controlled by foreign masters, and apparently abandoned by God.

But the prophet Ezekiel did not share his people’s general despair. So in an effort to regenerate hope, he coined the idea of resurrection. Ezekiel loved that concept. [Recall his Vision of Dry Bones (EZ 7: 1-14).] For Ezekiel resurrection was a political metaphor that promised a new vital future despite appearances to the contrary. Israel, he said, would be liberated from Babylon, return home and experience rebirth. They would come back to life.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (JG), Pope Francis embraces not only Ezekiel’s spirit, but that of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To repeat, he actually revivifies Jesus and the Gospel. The pope does so by rescuing them both from conservative forces whose version of Christianity has held center stage for the last 35 years. It’s the version, the pope strongly implies, that has metaphorically killed the Jesus of the Gospels, who proclaimed the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom which belongs to the poor, not to the rich whom the conservatives prioritize.

Like Ezekiel, Jesus made his proclamation when all appearances indicated that Israel was dead. It was entirely under the heel of Roman jackboots and there seemed no escape. Yet Jesus described a horizon of hope that enlivened the spirits of the poor who were crushed by the Romans and by their rich Jewish collaborators who headed the temple establishment.

In such dire straits, Jesus proclaimed a new future where everything would be turned upside down. He said audacious things. In God’s realm, he insisted, the poor would be in charge. The last would be first, and the first would be last. The rich would be poor and the poor would be well–fed and prosperous. The powerless and gentle would have the earth for their possession. Jesus’ unemployed and famished audiences couldn’t hear enough of that!

So he elaborated. He told parable after parable – all about the kingdom and its unstoppable power. It was like leaven in bread – unseen but universally active and transforming. It was like the mustard seed – a weed that sprouted up everywhere impervious to eradication efforts. It was like a precious pearl discovered in the ash bin – like a coin a poor woman loses and then rediscovers. His metaphors, similes and parables were powerful.

To repeat, Pope Francis strongly implies that socio-economic conservatism has murdered the Jesus I’ve just described. It has done so by its “preferential option for the rich.” It embraces free-market capitalism, trickle-down theory, and cut-backs in health care, education, and anti-poverty programs. Conservatives complement such horrors with huge tax-breaks for the country’s 1%. All of this is was chillingly represented last week by “devout Catholic,” Paul Ryan whose budget promised to sock it to the poor and middle class, while enriching military industrialists along with his affluent friends.

The Joy of the Gospel makes it clear that no one can support policies like Ryan’s and claim at the same time to be a follower of Jesus.

In other words, Ryan and the pope are on completely different pages. While conservatives have buried the Gospel Jesus, Pope Francis calls him back to life. He stands before Jesus’ grave and shouts “Come Forth!” Even Fortune Magazine recognizes the resulting miracle.

Consider the Pope’s anti-conservative incantation that brings Jesus back to life. It runs like this:

• Wealth does not belong to the rich, but to the world’s poor (JG 57, 184).

• But the world economy as now structured concentrates wealth among an ever-shrinking minority of the rich (56).

• Wealth must therefore be redistributed (189, 204,215).

• Such redistribution must take place by government intervention in the free market, which (in contradiction to failed “trickle-down” theory) cannot by itself eliminate poverty (54).

• The rich who are unwilling to redistribute wealth to its true owners (the poor) are thieves (57, 189).

• More than that, they are murderers, since the world economy as presently configured is homicidal (58).

• This is a question of being pro-life (213).

• Favoring life certainly includes concern for the unborn (213).

• But “. . . defense of the unborn is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right” (213).

• Human rights include the right to food and shelter, education, health care, employment , and a just wage (191, 192)

• Respecting human rights involves renunciation of war and preparation for war (60).

• It also connects with environmental stewardship – defense of soil, insects, birds, fish, and the seas (215).

And so the tomb opens. And a Jesus who has been buried more than three decades stumbles out. And in doing so, he renews the faith of so many of us who had given up on the church.

Our faith is renewed because we recognize in Francis’ Jesus the embodiment of one of life’s fundamental truths: utopian visions of the good and true and beautiful can never be killed, even though they might appear lifeless and be pronounced dead by those who once loved them.

What should we do as a result of encountering the Jesus Francis has resurrected?

• Be bold in appropriating the vision of Pope Francis that is not at all idiosyncratic within the Catholic tradition. In fact, it represents the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church from Leo XIII to Vatican II and was even articulated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

• Accordingly and courageously incorporate into progressive political discourse the language and powerful ideas of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It can move people today just as it did in the times of Ezekiel and Jesus.

• Join Francis in refusing to cede the field of religion to the reactionary forces of neo-liberal conservatism.

• Expose that conservatism for the destructive fraud it is.

• More particularly, expose Paul Ryan and other Bible thumping Republicans as the heretics they are as they defend the interests of the rich and starve the poor in the name of the Gospel.

• Insist that our pastors get on board with Pope Francis in universalizing his pro-life vision to foreground issues of hunger, war and peace, capital punishment, full employment, universal health care, affordable housing, environmental protection. . . .

Francis reminds us that united with our neighbors, we too, the People of God, possess the power to raise the dead.

So as we stand before the grave of God, the church, and Jesus, let’s echo the pope’s cry: “Jesus, come forth!”

Sunday Homily: Jesus Rejects Money and Work: He Embraces ‘Back to Nature’ Abundance

Gandhi Greed

Readings for 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 49:14-15; PS 62: 2-3, 6-9; I COR 4: 1-5; MT 6: 24-34. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/030214.cfm

Today’s liturgy of the word raises the question of work and money – always two difficult elements of life for those claiming to follow Jesus’ Way. They’re difficult because both occupy so much of our attention and lives that they can distract us from what’s really important – what Jesus calls “the kingdom of God.” Consequently, in this morning’s Gospel selection, Jesus tells us to back off from both money and work while opening ourselves to the abundance of God’s Kingdom.

For American workaholics, that’s surprising. It’s especially challenging for those who love to attack “the undeserving poor” – that is, workers empowered by government programs even like the Affordable Health Care Act. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

About money Jesus directly compares the worship of God with the common attitude Americans adopt towards money – or as Jesus puts it, “Mammon” (the name for an idol). It’s impossible, Jesus says, to make money the focus of your life while claiming to serve God. In fact money can make us hate God. But that’s not the surprising part.

What is surprising is that Jesus’ claim comes very close to saying that loving God should make us hate money. That seems to be the meaning of his words recorded in today’s selection from Matthew. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

In other words, there’s a choice to be made here: serve God or money; hate and despise money or hate and despise God. No one can have it both ways. The text seems to bear that reading, don’t you think?

Of course Jesus’ pronouncement will lead many to “clarify” his words to mean don’t be attached to money. It’s the service of money – it’s making money your master – they would explain, that causes hatred of God.

Okay. But who among us (even financiers, banksters and hedge fund managers) would claim to serve money even though they spend all their waking hours scheming about it. Who would admit that they’re attached to money, or have made it their master? Even those 85 individuals proud of owning as much as half the human race would probably deny that they “serve” money or that it’s their master. (And if they’re right, we can stop our discussion right here!)

On the other hand, those wishing to have it both ways might go further. They might invoke “nature.” They might point out we obviously can’t do without money; it’s a product of nature (human nature) they might say. Some might even argue we can’t even do without capitalism and its drive to “maximize profit.” Capitalism and profit maximization simply represent the inescapable way the world works. They are reflections of the natural order. If they allow 85 people to own more than half the world, so be it. That’s simply natural. (Please hold that thought.)

Such talk about nature brings us to my second point – Jesus’ attitude towards work and those who choose not to. Here he definitely has a “back to nature” approach. And once again, it’s surprising. Jesus is not talking about the naturalness of competition or of the law of supply and demand.

In today’s reading from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says clearly that the natural order not only minimizes the importance of money (at the very least); it also minimizes the importance of work. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus says, “they don’t sow or reap or store food in barns.” Or “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin.” Learn from them both. Follow their example.

Say what? Is Jesus intention here to discourage work itself? (Talk about contradicting “American” values!) It’s easy to draw that conclusion, I think. After all, he seems to be saying don’t sow or reap or store products in warehouses. Don’t toil or spin. It’s a short step from there to saying, “Don’t work!”

Besides that, Jesus seems to have lived out that latter implication. I mean as an able-bodied 30-something, he left his job as a carpenter to wander from village to village in Palestine philosophizing and apparently living on hand-outs. On the road, he had no home and must have sought shelter from friends. Moreover, he got rough fishermen to leave their nets and follow his example of what appears to be idleness as far as economic productivity is concerned.

In fact, Republicans today would clearly regard Jesus and his apostles as examples of the idle undeserving poor – not to say bums – living off the donations of hard working people. I mean, does that contradict our Protestant Work Ethic, or what?

And that brings me to that Obamacare business.

Did you follow last month’s flap over the Congressional Budget Office’s Report on jobs and President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (ACA)? It said that the ACA would induce 2.5 million people to leave work. They’d escape “job lock” – i.e. the inability to leave employment because doing so would lose them health coverage.

All hell broke loose.

When Paul Ryan (R-Wis) heard that, hypocrisy demanded that he and his Republican cronies reverse their position on “job lock.” Formerly they were against it. In fact a couple of years ago, Ryan said,”[The] key question that ought to be addressed in any healthcare reform legislation is, are we going to continue job-lock or are we going to allow individuals more choice and portability to fit the 21st century workforce?”

Now, however, since freedom from “job lock” represented a boon of the ACA, Ryan and the Republicans had changed their tune. They quickly became opponents of “more choice and portability.” Having realized that Obamacare will not eliminate jobs, but increase worker freedom to change jobs or leave the workforce altogether, GOP spokespersons were forced to readopt their familiar tack of demonizing empowered workers and the poor.

This meant that mothers and fathers leaving coveted jobs at McDonalds or as greeters in Wal-Mart to spend more time with their families were characterized as slackers and lazy. According to Ryan, such people lose respect for “the dignity of work.” They were worthy of their traditional rank among Republicans’ favorite target, the undeserving poor. (Never mind that Ryan has done everything he can to undermine labor’s dignity – but that’s another story.)

The point is that Jesus and his sainted friends were not only among the undeserving poor, they flaunted it. They recognized that according to God’s natural order, the world belongs to all creatures including the birds and flowers. If its resources were shared according to Jesus’ Kingdom values, there’d be enough for everyone – just as there was for birds and flowers in Jesus’ day.

So in minimizing the importance of money and praising freedom from work, Jesus was not being unrealistic or some starry-eyed hippy. Instead (as always) he was proclaiming the Kingdom of God. In God’s order, he insisted, there is abundance for everyone – or as Gandhi said enough for everyone’s need, but not for their greed.

Realizing the reality of God’s and nature’s abundance – and not giving in to the world’s myth of scarcity, overwork, and focus on money – should give workers and those not belonging to Ryan’s 1% courage to demand what is their birthright.

That natural condition is a life without worry about making ends meet and with enough leisure to enjoy life just like the birds and flowers.

Beggars, Takers and Faith Healing

Today’s Readings: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

(http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102812.cfm)

A few weeks ago a “secret” video was released involving presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The video showed Mr. Romney speaking with deep-pocketed campaign supporters and, in effect, addressing the issue of blind beggars – one of whom is centralized in this morning’s gospel reading.

According to Mr. Romney, 47% of Americans “never take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  The Republican candidate’s running mate, Paul Ryan, called such people “takers.” He estimated that 30% of Americans fall into that category. In language associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a hero of Mr. Ryan (whom our diocesan paper Crossroads describes as a “devout Catholic”) just under half of us are “moochers” and “unproductive eaters.”

I’m sure many of those who tried to silence the blind Bartimaeus in this Sunday’s gospel selection thought of him in those terms. After all, he was a beggar – and a pushy one at that. When they tried to silence him he just shouted out louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

In fact, Bartimaeus shouted so insistently that Jesus heard above the din of the crowd, and asked that the beggar be brought to him.

And what did Jesus say? Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Bart? Why don’t you get a job? Don’t you care about yourself? Take some responsibility, man. I’m tired of seeing takers like you just sitting around all day producing nothing and eating at the expense of others! Someone, call the police and get this guy off the street. And as for the rest of you, follow my example of ‘tough love’.”

Of course Jesus didn’t say such things. As compassion itself and as a prophet, Jesus instead followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words were proclaimed in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes those people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

So Jesus’ real words to Bartimaeus were “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher let me see again.”

The Great Faith Healer responds, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

It was a simple as that. Then we’re told the beggar immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way.”

Note that Jesus’ prophetic example was enough to change the attitude of the crowd. One minute they were “sternly” ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. But as soon as Jesus said “Call him here,” they changed their tune. Their words became encouraging and enthusiastic. They said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Someone has said, “If you want to become invisible, become poor.”  That means that where the poor – where blind beggars like Bartimaeus – are concerned most of us are blind. We just don’t see them. Above all, we don’t see our own condition as beggars. I mean all of us are in many ways “takers.” No matter how we may protest our self-sufficiency, we did not “build it” without help from others. And that’s true even of the “donors” Mitt Romney was begging from.

Elizabeth Warren who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat against Scott Brown put it best. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory . . . Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Prophetic words like that can cure our blindness and establish solidarity with those the self-made see as takers, moochers and useless eaters.

The reason we are here this morning is to have our liturgical encounter with the faith-healer, Jesus of Nazareth. He can cure our blindness to the ones who in our tradition are closest to God’s heart – the exiles, beggars, blind, lame and the mothers who hold up half the sky that blesses us all.

Let our prayer this morning be that of Bartimaeus, “My teacher, let me see again.” I am blind and a beggar. Let me see with your eyes, Jesus. Let my faith in you make me well. I want to follow you “on the way” you have trod.