Ars Praedicandi: Ed Foley’s Homily on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

While technically it was a few days ago
by many folk’s social calendars
and especially by those enterprising restaurants, boutiques
and spas who excel at marketing
this is still Valentine’s weekend
but admittedly in somewhat of a diminished mode

Happily for the retailers the diminishment
does not seem to be in overall spending

Valentine’s day still ranks
as number 3 in the consumer holiday expenditure rate
at 20 billion dollars
well behind Mother’s day at close to 24 billion last year
and Christmas 2018 at maybe over a trillion dollars

On the other hand, that rising number in Valentine’s Day sales
may simply be an indicator of inflated prices
not inflated interest

According to the National Retail Federation
10 years ago more than 60% of adults
planned to celebrate Valentine’s day
Today that number has drop to just over 50%
and young adult interested has dropped almost 20%
from 72% to 53%

Interest on the part of women is even lower
Apparently it’s becoming a Guy’s holiday
On average guys plan to shell out $339 on their beloved
while women averaged about $64

Part of the push back against Valentine’s day
is seen in the growing attention to “Gal-entine’s” day
an idea spawned by a 2010 episode of the TV Comedy
Parks and Recreation

The invention of the over-bubbly character Leslie
who wanted to celebrate the joys of female friendship
and the date: February 13th

Well the idea has taken off
Go online and you can find over 100 different kinds
of Galentine’s day Cards
Even Hallmark has a lineup of 14 of them

There even seems to be the rumblings of
a male reaction to Valentine’s day
Google “palentine’s day” and see with you come up with

The reason that I chronicle
at least a social shunning if not backlash
against Valentine’s day
is not only because I got lost
in a research vortex on the topic
but also because our readings seem to be doing that as well.

It doesn’t appear, for example,
that the prophet Jeremiah got the Valentine memo …
and the first reading suggests he is not in a Valentine’s mood

“crushed is the one who trusts in human beings”
“cursed is the one who seeks his strength in flesh”
Well happy Valentines to you too

If we think we might run to the gospel for refuge
Luke starts out pretty well with the quartet of blessings
but then whacks us with a quartet of woes
to the rich
to the filled
to the laughing
to the well-spoken of …
that must include those who got chocolates and Champaign

Clearly not much in the cupid spirit
but maybe this word of contradictions
this gospel of reversals
this set of beatitudes matched with what one writer called
“woe-i-tudes” [1]
actually reveal something of the divine Eros
the eternal passion
the sacred heart of a creator
who in the most astounding reversal of all
has fallen in love with his own creatures
especially the marginalized, poor, erased and lost

That instinct is fueled by the way that Luke crafts his beatitudes
quite different from those we hear in Matthew

Luke has shortened the list from 8 to 4
and has added a series of “woes” missing from Matthew

One credible explanation of this Lukan editing of Matthew
is that Jesus probably taught these sayings many times
and shaped the beatitudes to his listeners/his audience

Now I don’t want to suggest that Jesus was running for office
to be elected as messiah
but it is interesting to think of the beatitudes
as part of Jesus’ basic stump speech
and like any good stump speech
it has central unchanging themes
but is appropriately modulated to the local context

If you remember
just a few chapters ago in Luke
Jesus was talking to the home town crowd in Nazareth
and while polite and initially affirming
they eventually concluded he went not just a little too far
but way too far
and tried to throw him off a cliff …
in a few minutes literally from the pulpit to the precipice

But just two chapters later, he appears with a different crowd
not up on some mount as in Matthew
but down on the plain … on a level playing field

As womanist theologian Renita Weems puts it,

Jesus addresses “people with very little to offer
beyond their enthusiasm and their devotion
but despite their poverty and need
they recognize the presence of something new and powerful”

Weems notes the desperation of the crowd on the plain,
“eager to sign on to any revolution that promises them a
share in the world in which they live.”

And Jesus seems to fuel that promise
even in the way he addresses the crowd
using the second person rather than the third
blessed are you, not blessed are those who, as in Matthew
because Jesus is speaking
intimately and compassionately to the crowd and
identifies with the crowd by standing with them
rather than above them
In a word, Jesus is speaking to his base
The poor and outcasts are his metaphorical valentines

If you follow entertainment media to any extent these days
you know we are in the midst of award season
According to the pros it begins in September with the Emmy’s
and ends at the end of February with the Academy awards
In the September to February Span
There are almost 60 distinctive awards bestowed
everything form the well known
Grammys and Golden Globes and Critic’s choice
to the lesser known Dorian awards from the society of LGBTQ critics
to the North Carolina Film Critics Association awards

All of these awards are both sought after and contested
like the push back against Black Panther
winning big at the SAG and Critics choice awards
or critics slamming Cardi B
the first time a woman won Grammy as best rap album

But if you think that crowd of award winners was criticized
how much more the crowd that Jesus chose as his base
The lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans
his valentines
his palentines
even more so, his “egalentines” – equal in dignity

Jesus privileges these poor, and hungry
weeping and disparaged
and goes after the rich and privileged
not because either group is necessarily
better or worse than the other
but because the poor reveal something about
the essential generosity of God
and the inhumanity among God’s creatures
that is essentially contrary to God’s will. [2]
Such shocking inhumanity in its myriad forms today
is the true national emergency we need to address

All of us do not experience the kind of poverty
that grabs the attention of Divine pathos
but there is one kind of vulnerability
helplessness that we all know
and are largely glad to be done with

It is one that Jesus celebrates
as an image of a true disciple
and that is the state of childhood

I have been reading Robert Sapolsky’s difficult but stunning book
Behave: The biology of humans at our best and worst

A third of the way through the book he offers a startling look
at all of the prenatal and post-natal factors
parenting, environment, nutrition, genetics and the like
that have a frightening impact
on whether we grow up healthy and well adjusted
or whether we are prone to underachievement
to violence, or even to mental disabilities

What is so heart wrenching about Sapolsky’s narrative
is that children have no control
over those multiple biological and environmental factors
that will shape them for the rest of their lives

In the midst of reading Sapolsky
I ran across a reflection on today’s gospel
from the always thoughtful Ron Rolheiser

Fr. Rolheiser’s seems to offer an alternative beatitude here
paraphrased as: “blessed are the bed-wetters”

Rolheiser reflects on visiting friends
whose four year old daughter was relentlessly teased
with a clever but cruel rhyme
because she still occasionally wet her bed

He writes:
The poor kid … flinched every time they repeated the rhyme …
yet she was helpless to protect herself. She was exposed and
ashamed…. she was angry, not so much at the other kids and
their teasing as at herself, at her weakness …. Sometimes kids
are powerless to stop wetting their beds, long after they’ve
matured enough to experience great shame in doing it.

He continues:
To such as these belongs the kingdom of God. Jesus had just
such a child in mind when he made that statement. But generally
we misunderstand why the kingdom belongs to children. We tend
to idealize the innocence of children…. That is not what Jesus
most idealizes in a child however. The quality that makes children
so apt to receive the kingdom is not so much their innocence as
their helplessness, their powerlessness to not wet their beds….
Very young children cannot even feed themselves, let alone
provide for themselves.

He concludes,
I suspect that is how God looks at us …. We grow up, grow more
responsible, and grow more capable of taking care of ourselves,
still we never quite achieve adequacy…. But … in the face of our
inadequacies, we must begin to see ourselves as God sees us, a
child who cannot yet be fully responsible for his or her life. Then
our shame can give way to tender compassion.

It is such compassion that Luke is attempting to stir up
In his own community, when he writes:
Blessed are the poor
the hungry
the inconsolable
the demeaned

And so we understand:
Blessed are the vulnerable
the children
the diminished
the border-dwellers
the dying

For they rehearse our past and our future
and reveal the God who sustained us in that past
and will sustains us in that future
maybe a future that is already upon us

If we but learn to acknowledge our own finitude
poverty, weakness and inadequacy
and reject the easy temptation
to oppress those whose poverty and weakness
and inadequacy
is more obvious than our own

But instead learn the Jesus way
to embrace, love and even serve them
and all whom society pushes to the fringes
and so create a new level playing field
a new band of beloved “egalatines”
through Christ our Lord.

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another way (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), p. 53.e

[2] Gustavo Gutierrez, “Song and Deliverance” in Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World,
quoted by R. Alan Culpepper in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Luke.



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One response to “Ars Praedicandi: Ed Foley’s Homily on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

  1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    Another stunning offering from Fr. Foley.

    FWIW, I also toyed around with “woe-itudes” this past weekend. It turns out that, in Google Translate, the word for “woe” in the Vulgate is translated as “alas”; I liked “alas-itudes” even better. I ended up going in a different direction, though.

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