Should the Church focus only on “spiritual matters”?

6th Sunday of OT, year C | Lk 6:20-26

Some individuals, whether they are Catholic or not, resent it when the Church gets involved in social, economic and political issues, trying to bring about changes. The Church, they argue, should focus on “spiritual matters”. Implicit in this way of thinking is the idea that social, economic and political issues are not spiritual matters. Is this the case?

The Gospel – literally, the “Good News” – that the Church is called to proclaim was always meant to be a call for social, economic and political change. This is particularly evident in the Gospel of Luke. There, we find a message calling for an inversion of the current order. This is succinctly conveyed in Mary’s Magnificat. With the coming of Jesus, those on the bottom of society – the poor and outcasts – are to be raised up, while those on the top of society – the rich and powerful – are to be brought down. This inversion is to be connected to people’s’ concrete lives. At the time of Jesus, there was great social inequality. A great deal of wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few. Those who were poor were approximately 90% of the population. Although these poor people normally fared better than the desperately poor today, their existence was difficult and precarious. The poor in rural areas were generally subsistence farmers struggling to survive on inadequate land. The poor in urban areas could be even worse off. Jesus, being a tradesman, was certainly not one of the rich and powerful. He was not, however, among the poorest in society. One scholar, J. P. Meier, explains that if he were living today in the North America, Jesus would be a “blue collar worker in the lower-middle-class”. Jesus’ message was meant to address the inequality in his society. It was meant to be good news for the poor and oppressed, and divine judgement against the wealthy and prosperous who failed to help the needy.Cosimo Rosselli [Public domain]In the beatitudes that we heard in the Gospel today from Luke, the message of social, economic and political inversion comes across very clearly. It is interesting to note how Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the beatitudes differ. Although the Gospels are rooted in historical happenings, we know that they should not be understood as a blow-by-blow account of everything Jesus said and did. The evangelists were not following Jesus around with quill and parchment recording everything like some modern reporter. Rather, each evangelist shaped the traditions that he received in order to convey a brilliant theological message. The beatitudes are a great example of this. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find an emphasis on the spiritual and religious aspect of the beatitudes. For example, the poor are described as being “poor in spirit”. This modifier, “in spirit”, is not found in Luke. Luke directs his beatitudes at the materially poor, hungry and oppressed. It is these people who Jesus declares to be blessed. They are raised up while the rich, satisfied and socially acceptable are brought down. Jesus directs a series of woes against members of this group who do not use their privileged position to come to the aid of the needy. These woes are absent from Matthew’s version of the beatitudes, which is further evidence that Luke seeks to highlight a message of social and economic inversion in his telling of the beatitudes.

Praise the Lord

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