by Father Mike Stubbs
In recent months, Wall Street has attracted a lot of anger because of the large amounts of money financiers there have made.
It looks scandalous, compared to the salaries most people make. It is particularly troubling, since mishandling of financial matters on Wall Street has contributed to the financial crisis.
There is nothing new about discontent over the disparity of wages. Even within the same company, one worker might grumble about the money that the worker in the next cubicle makes when compared to his or her own.
If anything, that discontent was even greater at the time of Jesus Christ. About half of the population belonged as slaves to the rest. A man who owed money could be sold, along with his family, to satisfy the debt. The gap between rich and poor was much wider than it is now.
What possibly could be done to close the gap? Jesus took the first step by coming down to be on the same level as the crowd. We see that happening in Sunday’s Gospel reading, lk 6:17, 20-26. Sunday’s Gospel begins: “Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground.”
Where had Jesus been? He had spent all night in prayer on top of a mountain. The next day, he had selected 12 disciples to help him as his apostles. Then, as Sunday’s Gospel tells us, Jesus and the apostles descended to heal the sick and teach the crowds.
He began his teachings with four beatitudes, followed by four woes, corollaries to those beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor”—“Woe to you who are rich.” The woes are the flip side of the beatitudes. These beatitudes and woes taken together enunciate a central theme in Luke’s Gospel: the reversal of fortunes. Those who have suffered from bad luck will take their turn to enjoy good luck, and vice versa.
This theme of reversal of fortunes appears early on in Luke’s Gospel: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:52, 53).
This redistribution of wealth and power will happen through God’s intervention in the world. It is not a matter of our own doing. At the same time, this action of God correlates well with the ethical teaching of Luke’s Gospel.
Luke reminds the wealthy of their responsibility toward the poor. If God has blessed the rich, they in turn are to share those blessings with the less fortunate. God will redistribute wealth and power above all through the Holy Spirit, who will open the hearts of the rich and powerful to share with others. The Holy Spirit will inspire them to follow the teachings of Christ: “Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy” (Lk 12:33).
In other words, God will not act entirely on his own, but through human beings to bring about the kingdom. Jesus has taken the first step toward a more level playing field. The next step is up to us.