Ordinary Time 23, Year B

Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on (Rev. 14:13)

Recounts this Sunday’s gospel reading, “Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.”

It looks like Jesus took the long way around. The roundabout route out of Tyre brought him north, to Sidon, and from there he headed southeast across the Leontes river (now Litani). He continued south past Caesarea Philippi to the east of the Jordan and so approached the lake of Galilee on its east side, within the territory of the Decapolis. “This journey through largely Gentile territory,” says the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (4:50, p. 613), may have been intended by Mark as an anticipation of the church’s mission to the Gentiles.”

For us who make up the church, there is much left to do still if the above-mentioned places are to flourish and their residents—perhaps mostly non-Christians—be healed, and the coming of the Kingdom of God be proclaimed to them. Such blossoming, the healing and the proclamation seem to me to be even more urgent because of the recent war and its train of disasters and evils. They make for the blossoming, the healing and the proclamation, no doubt, the fact that Pope Benedict XVI has underscored only a few days ago that religious difference cannot serve as a premise or pretext for a belligerent attitude toward other human beings and also the efforts, on the part of the Sant’Egidio Community, to discuss and resolve the problems in Israel and Lebanon with regard to peace [1].

But a lasting blossoming of places and a genuine healing of people and an effective proclamation of the gospel by deeds and words, in the manner of Jesus and in accordance with his will, cannot dispense with the truth to which the rhetorical question from the Letter of James points: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” Without an embracing of the Christian Magna Charta that consists of the beatitudes, I do not believe to be possible any kind of genuine blossoming or integral healing or evangelical proclamation. And if we do not embrace this Magna Charta, we might as well not call ourselves Christians, I would think.

The Christian, it seems to me, has to accept that the poor are indeed blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, the poor who are oppressed, persecuted and hauled off to court by the powerful who have wealth, influence and arms.

It must be acknowledged that Jesus has identified himself with the poor and not with these rich, whose might tries to turn the wrong into right and expect to solve problems easily, immediately and quickly—say, the problem of terrorism—by using weapons of destruction that shock and awe, so that soon enough they, as victors, can dictate peace as merely the absence of war and then write history from their viewpoint. But as Cardinal Walter Kasper reminds us [2]:

Missiles, bombs and grenades do not solve anything;
they only bring about destruction and death. War
does not lead to peace. War is often the mother of
other wars. These wars create more terrorists than
the ones that are eliminated. War is always a defeat;
it is the defeat of humanity, the downfall of hope and
of peace expectations.

The Christian worthy of the name “goes and sees” and, in virtue of his communion and affinity with Jesus, becomes convinced that peace “is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice” and requires self-denial and a constant mastering of passions, so that partiality is eliminated and the cultural boundaries that give rise to religious wars are opened (cf. [3]; [4]; GS 78). The Christian turns swords into ploughshares and spears into sickles. Renouncing, with Emma Lazarus, the storied pomp of ancient lands, he too says:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
............................................................

The Christian must convince himself that the names of those who live up to the good tidings to the poor and proclaim them are in the book of life, and that the scroll can only be opened by the one who was slain and who shed his blood, and that sacred history is written by the vanquished poor and by those condemned to death (cf. Phil. 4:3; Rev. 5:2, 9).

Rest assured the Christian that if, accepting and anticipating Jesus’ death, she presses on to be in intimate contact with him, she will be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed (cf. Mk. 14:3-9).