All Saints/All Souls Lynne Smith, OSB
Eph. 1:11-23 and Luke 6:20-31
When I saw that I would be giving the homily this Sunday, I knew the Gospel reading on All Saints/All Souls is always the Beatitudes, and I thought, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. I can preach on those.”
Then when the time got closer, I actually looked at the texts assigned for today and found that the gospel was Luke’s beatitudes and woes rather than Matthew’s version. Suddenly, I was not so confident. Luke doesn’t spiritualize these as Matthew does, and Luke adds woes. Luke calls blessed those who are literally poor, hungry or hated. I am none of those, and honestly, I don’t want to be. Instead, I find myself in the situation of those on whom Jesus pronounces the woes. I don’t want to be there either.
It seems Jesus has things backwards. Aren’t the rich blessed because they have what they need? If they are rich but in for woe, where is their hope?
Isn’t it the poor who experience woe because they can’t take care of themselves? They have so much to weep over. Where is their hope?
As I sat with the text and read some more, I considered how the woes might be true for me. I notice that when I live from a place of thinking I can, and by implication, have to, provide for all my needs, I feel insecure, because it is hard to know if I really have enough. I fear losing what I have. A health crisis, a downturn in the stock market or some other unseen turn of events can change my ability to take care of myself. My riches never quite feel secure. Woe seems to be lurking around the corner.
These beatitudes and woes have to do with where we place our hope and trust. The poor have nowhere to turn but to God’s care, and Jesus pronounces them blessed. Theirs is the reign of God. Their reward is great because they will experience the loving, merciful care of God. However, this is not to glorify or spiritualize the plight of the poor. Their situation is likely due to an unjust society that oppresses them for the benefit of others. Life should not be this way for anyone. If the poor experience God’s reign and loving care, it will be through the actions of the “saints.” ‘Saints’ is the word most commonly used in the Christian scriptures for followers of Christ. Theologian and ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas writes that saints are “people like us who have been made more than we are by being engrafted into God’s reign that is ruled by forgiveness and love” (Unleashing the Scriptures: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993; 102).
The Letter to the Ephesians speaks about wherein our riches and hope actually lie. They lie in the power of God at work in Christ and in us. And hope is not so much something we have as something we do.
Ted Dunn, who writes about transformation, says that trust in God’s providence “is an active hope that requires our responsible participation and partnership with God and one another to make it real.” (The Inner Work of Transformation: A Guide for Personal Reflection and Communal Sharing, CCS Publications: Clearwater, FL; 2021, 62).
As we observe the Solemnity of All Saints & All Souls today, we remember all those people in our lives (saints with a small “s” and saints with a large “S”) who have embodied the love, mercy, hope and justice of God. We belong to them through the communion of saints. We discover our blessedness when we trust in the power at work in us to bring hope to one another. We offer hope to the world and experience our blessedness when come to this table where we are fed by Christ and bound to the communion of saints and are strengthened to serve others.
We embody hope and the reign of God in small and large ways: a smile, a kind word, visiting those who are imprisoned, receiving another as Christ. We embody the justice of God when we work for laws to end oppression and the destruction of the planet. We embody hope when we educate ourselves to become anti-racist. We begin to experience the reign of God when we use what we have to care for the planet and the poor, the hungry, the outcast and oppressed.
Henri Nouwen wrote, there “are people who, in the midst of the world, live with the knowledge that [Jesus] is alive and dwells within us. … It is so little, so unspectacular, yes, so hidden, this Eucharistic life, but it is like yeast, like a mustard seed, like a smile on a baby’s face. It is what keeps faith, hope, and love alive in a world that is constantly on the brink of self-destruction.” (“A Hidden Hope” from his book, With Burning Hearts).
May we be such people.