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(Part 13)


November 13, 2014

Today’s readings:
Philemon 7-20
Psalm 146:7-10
Luke 17:20-25

The psalmist speaks clearly about who God is, that “the Lord loves the righteous” (Ps 146:8c) and that he “thwarts the way of the wicked.” (Ps 146:9c). The way forward for God’s people is clear­to do good and avoid evil, to be holy and shun wickedness. In God’s call to be good and not bad, He situates that within the context of work with the poor, or those in need.

The Lord “secures justice for the oppressed” (Ps 146:7a). Many people are oppressed­Christians in the Middle East, children exploited at labor, women trafficked. They are those who have no power, and are used by those who do have power and money. Those who are oppressed are deprived of what they rightly deserve as children of God ­ life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Their restoration begins with returning to a right relationship with the God of justice.

The Lord “gives bread to the hungry” (Ps 146:7b). Many people in the world are hungry, and are even dying of starvation. The real tragedy is that there is enough food and resources in the world to feed everyone. The real problem is selfishness and lack of sharing. If people, especially the rich (individuals and nations alike), shared what they had, there would be no one in need.

“The Lord sets prisoners free” (Ps 146:7c). The poorest of the poor are those languishing in prisons of the world, at times innocent but there because of poverty. They have lost their lives, their families, their freedom and their future. But there is something they can freely have that can set them free. It is Jesus and the gospel of salvation in him.

The “Lord gives sight to the blind” (Ps 146:8a). Many people are blind ­ not seeing the value of the child in the womb, not appreciating the blessing of life-long indissoluble marriage, being consumed by materialism and hedonism, not seeing Jesus in the poor. Only faith in Jesus can remove the scales from their eyes.

“The Lord raises up those who are bowed down” (Ps 146:8b). Many people are weighed down by the problems and challenges of life. They often sink deeper and deeper into the mire, until they can no longer rise. But we need to see that suffering and pain are salvific, that God allows these to come into our lives in order to purify us and to draw us closer to Him. As we respond to the difficulties of life with joy, God is able to work wonders and raise us to the heights.

“The Lord protects the resident alien” (Ps 146:9a). In a world of migration, oftentimes due to economic need, to oppression and also war, many people today are uprooted from their homes, separated from their loved ones, struggling to cope with loneliness and misery. God commands His Church to care for them, even as states do not. God commands His people to provide them the families, homes and love that they cannot find elsewhere but in the Christian community.

The Lord “comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow” (Ps 146:9b). The orphan and the widow are those among society’s poorest, with no one to care for them. They are left to fend for themselves, with widows having no sources of livelihood, with children roaming the streets to beg. Totally dependent upon God’s mercy, they are our way to caring for Jesus himself as we help them.

All these poor are like Onesimus, a human slave, with no rights nor future. Running away from his master Philemon, he runs into Paul and is converted to Christ. Suddenly, while he remains poor and the slave of Philemon, his whole life is radically changed. He “was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me.” (Phlm 11). He is “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother” (Phlm 16a). Not having known love, he is now “beloved especially to me” (Phlm 16b). Being of no account, now he has his dignity as a human being and a child of God, “as a man and in the Lord.” (Phlm 16c).

Now we are the Philemons of the world. We are not necessarily bad people. We might even be good Christians doing Christian service, and we hear others tell us, “the hearts of the holy ones have been refreshed by you, brother.” (Phlm 7b). But we might be blind to the enslavement of many in the world, with some of them so due to our own neglect or sin. Paul tells us what he has told Philemon, that we are to recognize who these slaves are, and to “welcome him as you would me.” (Phlm 17b).

Why? Because we ourselves are slaves of Christ. We belong to him. “May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.” (Phlm 19b). When we embrace the poor, we can then be used profitably by God to do His work among His beloved poor, and we certainly will bring joy to the heart of Jesus. “Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Phlm 20).

Jesus loves the poor. We are called to follow him. Jesus identifies with the suffering poor. May we ourselves embrace his cross and endure the suffering and oppression that come with following and serving him. And through all this, may we know that the cross indeed is the way of Jesus. But after we have suffered a little, we will enter into eternal glory. “For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.” (Lk 17:24-25).

The poor are those who are rejected by this generation and who suffer. We too, as we proclaim the authentic gospel, including a preferential option for the poor, will be rejected and will be oppressed. Know that that is cause for joy, and eternal salvation.

Such is God’s eternal work. And such is God’s call to us, to bring good news to the poor, so that no one will be in need. Jesus is Emmanuel, the God who is with us. The Spirit of God is within us. Even in a world of darkness and tears and deprivation, God is already present and the Kingdom is already at hand. “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17:21b). Let us act accordingly, as true citizens of the Kingdom.

And at the end of time, after all the generations that follow after us, we will be judged according to how we reached out to the least of our brethren. May we always know and proclaim this truth: “The Lord shall reign forever, your God, Zion, through all generations! Hallelujah!” (Ps 146:10).

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