07 February 2013

How must we be poor?

4th Week of OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus spends a lot of his time with the disciples teaching them the basic truths of the Good News. None of what he teaches them could be called “systematic theology” or “philosophical theology.” If we just have to have a label to apply, we could use “biblical theology” or “biblical wisdom.” At his arrival among us as the Word made flesh, Jesus fulfills all of the Old Covenant's obligations and promises. So, the content of his teaching is basically The How of how he fulfills these obligations and promises. How does he teach this? Word and deed. He preaches and acts as the Messiah. Truly, all he needs to do is travel around letting folks know that his Father's kingdom is coming and that they all need to repent of their sins and receive His mercy. Jesus is ever the practical teacher, ever mindful of his students and how they learn. He preaches parables not lectures; he performs miracles not arguments; he lives the Good News. His instructions to the disciples in this evening's gospel reading bear all this out. He gives them practical wisdom for spreading the Good but-not-so-easily received News. 

When Jesus sends his disciples out into the world two by two to preach the Good News, he sends them out with next to nothing: “no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” They could take sandals, a walking stick, and one tunic. Nothing else. They were to follow local guest customs; cast out unclean spirits; anoint the sick; and preach repentance in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom. What's striking about these instructions is the paucity of possessions they are allow to take. Some have argued that apostolic poverty is a condition for preaching the Gospel. You must be truly materially poor—imitating our Lord—in order to preach with authority. Others have argued that apostolic poverty is simply a means to an end. Less stuff, fewer worries on the road; fewer worries, more time to preach and minister. Historically, the Franciscans see true poverty as an end in itself. Dominicans, however, see poverty as a means, a tool for evangelization. We could say that whether the poverty Jesus requires of his disciples is a means or an end, what counts is the result of the preaching. His practical wisdom is both practical and wise. Just as Jesus himself is the Good News, his apostles (then and now) share in his mission and ministry and embody the virtues of the biblical wisdom he teaches. 

How we present ourselves as apostles while preaching the Good News is vital to the message. Yes, less stuff on the road equals fewer worries and leaves more time to minister. And, yes, being truly poor can deepen one's humility, one's dependence on God's providence. But how does the practice of apostolic poverty among Christ's 21st century disciples help spread the Good News? Few of us practice the kind of apostolic poverty that Jesus requires of his 1st century disciples. That kind of poverty won't get us far in a capitalist culture dominated by a Protestant work ethic. A culture where “being poor” is thought to result from laziness. Our poverty will need to be a different sort. In order to successfully preach the Good News in postmodern America, we must be impoverished of despair and rich in hope; poor in apathy and rich in love; profoundly broke in mistrust, greed, anger and rich in faith, generosity, and hospitality. In other words, we must adopt and live-out the poverty of Self that Christ himself lived for others. We have nothing to be despairing about; nothing to be angry about; nothing that is our own to hoard; and we have everything we have from God to give and see multiplied in the giving. Like Christ, we give it all and receive it all back in ridiculous abundance! 

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  1. Interesting - of the good variety.

    1. Heh. Feast or famine with you, uh? ;-)

    2. Well, ya know, some days I'm busy writing my own stuff!

      And other days there's just not much to say! ;-)

    3. Dilettante. Some of us po'folks have to produce everyday! ;-)