23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jam 2:1-5) “Why We Must Love and Serve the Poor” PDF Version
Homily for the 23rd Sunday of OT (Jam 2:1-5)
In a typical Weekend Homily, you will notice that the homilist will usually preach on the Gospel reading and its fairly obvious connection to the First Reading. What you will find less often is a homily dedicated to the Second Reading on a given Weekend. More often than not this Second Reading will have little to no connection with the First Reading and Gospel and so the homilist usually skips over it, hoping you, the congregation, might not notice his omission!
But often all three readings have a pretty obvious connection, such as this Sunday where all three readings speak of the necessity of the Christian Faithful to care for the needs of the poor.
The Letter of St James, who was a cousin of our Lord, the first Bishop of Jerusalem and martyred by stoning, is among the most practical and hard hitting of all the New Testament Letters. St James was not afraid to tell the people of His day and all generations of Christians that one shows their faith in Jesus Christ by actively seeking to do good works as manifestations of your love for God and Neighbour. He bluntly said that Faith without Good Works is dead, a faith in word only but never actualized in bettering the life of those around you.
Last Sunday, St James said that Religion which is pleasing to God is that which seeks to care for the poor, widow and orphan and where one seeks to continually purify themselves from all evil. Another way to say this is true and right religion is founded on love of God and neighbour, where one loves God by seeking to remove all stain of sin and corruption from one’s life, presenting to God a heart made clean and ever renewed, and by loving one another through concrete acts of charity, most especially to the poor and disadvantaged.
That Christians have been commanded by Christ to love and serve the poor is something indisputable and for a Christian to say that they are somehow not called to care for the poor would be to deny their very Christian identity. But this begs the question if one really need be a Christian to care for the poor or if this work of charity is uniquely Christian in origin? It is very evident that the majority of ancient religions that continue to be practiced today spoke of the value of caring for the poor. Furthermore, many people today who claim to be spiritual but not religious, agnostic, atheist, or fallen away from a particular religious tradition also find meaning, self fulfillment and value in embracing causes of social justice and care for the poor of our world.
And so no the care of the poor is not an exclusively Christian ideal nor should we think that it is within the life and mission of the Christian People that the care of poor will thrive or that we are the leaders in this work, nor that our care for the poor will be what will bring people back to the Church they have chosen to leave.
So what then forms the Christian mandate of caring for the poor? What is it in this work of charity and mercy that compelled by Christ, St James and countless Christian men and women to care for the disadvantaged with such unwavering dedication and zeal?
There are many secular reasons for being involved in this work. For many its brings a sense of self-fulfillment and meaning to life. Others pursue it to be champions of some ideal of social justice, reacting against major corporations, environmental decay, corrupt government policies or the ever seductive call to revolution and upheaval in the name of the poor and oppressed, a call we must remember shattered the foundations of human civilization in the past century.
Some pursue this work to advance their own social standing, acquiring the necessary service hours to help them obtain a better job or place in higher education, while others simply find great joy, peace and happiness in caring for the poor and needy. Hence there is a real mix of noble and quite selfish reasons for caring for the poor.
This is why a Christian must approach this work with the understanding that to love and serve the poor is to love and serve Jesus Christ! Jesus time and again identified Himself with the poor, revealing that He is mysteriously and truly present in their midst, and that if you are willing to give but a cup of water in His name for the poor’s betterment, then you are actually giving that cup of Water to Christ, quenching His thirst for justice and consoling Him in the misery that the poor find themselves in. This is why we love the poor, because it allows us first and foremost love our Lord and then in turn to love those whom our Lord chooses to dwell among.
This love is what compelled some of the greatest saints to dedicate themselves to the care of poor while maintaining a very honest attitude about how difficult and unpleasant this work can be. Consider for example what St Vincent de Paul once said about caring for the poor:
“Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose the poor.”
Thus each of us is required by Our Lord to consider how well I am caring for those in need. Our Lord requires concrete acts of charity and mercy from each of us. He will give us the gift of faith to understand that in serving our brothers and sister in need we are truly serving Him, most especially when we find it difficult, time consuming and unpleasant.
It also that God is calling us to give of our monetary means to noble charitable causes, being sure that we have first properly investigated what these charitable causes stand for and support, lest we start giving money to some charitable organization that is actually using charity to undermine the Gospel of Christ and teachings of Our Church.
It is also certain that Christ is asking us to pray for the poor as one needs to be filled in both body and spirit to allow them to have a true sense of dignity and self worth. In fact, many who are among the poorest in our world are those who have an abundance of earthly treasure but have cut off the source of God’s grace from their souls, making them spiritually malnourished and prone to find life to be a tiresome affair, riddled with depression and unhappiness because Christ is not in their lives.
So as we are actively involved in some charitable work, donating to worthy causes and offering prayer, penance and sacrifice for the materially and spiritually poor of our world, each of us is called to love the poor and in doing so love Christ.
Our very salvation actually depends upon it; for to end this life having never cared for the poor is to know severe judgement from our Lord, while to depart from this world abounding in works of charity and mercy is to be told we have done well as a good and faithful servant, ready to enter the joy of our Master.