The gospel of the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, provides a blueprint for living in society.
In the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) Jesus gives eight ways in which we can as a community find true happiness. The first thing to note is that Jesus is talking to a crowd because this gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Each statement is in the third person plural so he talks about numbers of people. Christianity is a team sport, if you like.
More importantly as American biblical scholar Barbara E Reid says, Jesus names ways in which people are not happy – ‘grinding poverty (ptochos in v 3 denotes “beggar”, one who is destitute), grief, landlessness, hunger, war, and persecution’. Rather than simply wait for a change of luck, Jesus suggests we need to act to bring about the reign of God, perhaps to change our attitudes.
‘To be poor in spirit is not to accept poverty as an inevitable state of life, but rather to find one’s wealth in God, to trust in God’s care for the poor (Ex 22:25-27; Isa 61:1) and to seek righteousness which rectifies the unequal distribution of goods so that all have enough to thrive. To be meek is not to be shrinking violets who accept injustice, but rather, to know our proper place as children of God, and to insure that all are treated as full heirs to God’s realm’ (America January 24-31).
What does this mean for followers of Christ in the dioceses of Palmerston North and Wellington?
One area of society which continues to suffer is that of children. An interim report from the United Nations Committee For Children notes that one in five continue to live in poverty and the number of babies and children dying as a result of violence is ‘staggering’. The committee expressed concern that many Maori and Pacific children lived in poverty. The committee notes some measures the government is taking to address these issues but questions the lack of an overarching child policy.
As readers will see from Wel-com’s front page report, the Child Poverty Action Group has suggested that New Zealand is paying lip service to its commitments to this committee.
The Alternative Welfare Working Group’s report last year called for a new approach to life in New Zealand. Yes, we need job creation but the country’s unemployed are more likely to benefit from an increase in a sense of wellbeing and self-worth than from a requirement to look for jobs that are simply not there. The issues around child abuse are also wider than simply a lack of paid work. The role of drug abuse and lack of connection between children and the transient associates of their mothers must also be addressed.
New Zealand is still a good place to live but cracks are starting to appear particularly in how we treat the ‘anawim’. We need to take a collective approach to caring for the most vulnerable in society, the children as well as the beneficiaries, to follow Jesus’ advice in the Beatitudes and to honour and emulate the ‘poor in spirit’, to pull our weight so that together we can bring about God’s kingdom. A good start is with the Social Justice Hui at the end of February or, in Palmerston North, the preparation day for Lent on March 5.