Homily: The Social Gospel of Luke

In today’s Gospel story St. Luke tells of a Pharasee and a tax collector each praying in the temple and he reverses our expectation of the outcome of the story.

Normal understanding that would have been understood of each. The one who would have been seen as the person of significance and of respect — the Pharasee — he shows an egotistical self-centered braggart who, when he talks to God, is talking only to himself. The hated tax collector, on the other hand, he portrays as a man of little considered self-worth. And yet Luke tells us he went home justified before God and not the other way around.

Luke’s gospel has many insights to reveal, especially to the believer who is seeking an understanding of the social Gospel of Jesus.

No other New Testament writer except the author of the Epistle of St. James emphasizes the social justice aspect of Christian living to the depth that Luke does. He preserves the many sayings of Jesus warning that those with material possessions have a responsibility to the poor and disadvantaged. He attacks the racism and discrimination against the untouchables that existed. They were the lepers, Samaritans, gentiles, tax collectors, women, and the poor who had no voice. It is a reminder to us that as the Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camera pointed out, “The words ‘violence’ and ‘violate’ come from the same root. And much of the world’s violence is carried out, not with an ax, but with a scalpel. And both must be recognized, called out, and eliminated from our violent world.

Luke’s emphasis on the social justice aspect of God’s message is established beginning with Mary’s Magnificat prayer: “He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing and the rich he has sent empty away” (1:52).

Only Luke reports what John the Baptizer’s reply was to the crowds who asked what must we do? “He who has two coats let him share with him who has none, and he who has food let him do likewise”(3:11). When Levi the tax collector was called to follow Jesus he “left everything behind” (5:28). In Luke’s sermon on the plain a special blessing is given to the poor, the hungry, and those who mourn. In contrast he warns the rich, the well fed, and happy that their day is coming (6: 20-26).

He eats with Simon the Pharisee but also permits a woman known as a sinner to wash his feet. Then forgives her sins (7:36-50). A group of women including Mary Magdalene served him out of their means (8:1-3). Of all the synoptic gospels, Luke is the only one who places the Samaritans in a favorable light. The good Samaritan stopped and ministered to a man who had been beaten by robbers. Whereas a priest and a Levite passed him by (10:35-37). He cured ten lepers and the only one came back to thank him and he was a Samaritan (17:11-19).

Jesus’ last acts before entering Jerusalem were to heal a blind man begging along the roadside in Jericho (18:35-43) and dining with Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1-10). These two stories are very symbolic; they summarize all of Jesus’ ministry. He came to bring hope to society’s unfortunate ones. In the case of Zacchaeus a tax collector and rich, he was able to get through the “eye of a needle” by giving half of his fortune to the poor.

The message of justice and peace continues to be proclaimed as an integral part of the Catholic Message. Pope Francis said this past June, “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.” The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops through its Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development works to increase awareness of Catholic social teaching and to promote opportunities to concretely live our Baptismal call to love God and neighbor. Besides working to overcome poverty through programs such as the Campaign for Human Development, it also includes advocacy with congress and the president on domestic issues such as food security, housing and employment and international issues such as peace, foreign assistance and religious freedom. It calls to all people who desire to live the Gospel in solidarity with neighbors who are across the street and around the world. The human life and dignity focus of the Gospels is highlighted and promoted.

Major themes of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict 16th and Pope Francis have included statements against oppression, denouncing war and condemning torture.

Closer to home, our American bishops have released statements such as the one on Punishment and Poverty, the Relationship between Incarceration and Addiction, and have written letters to House and Senate leaders on government shutdown and responsible federal budget choices.

It is not a complicated massage; but is a consistent one. Those who live in Jesus are constantly aware of those who are in need, are oppressed, and treated unfairly. On the global scale, they are aware that, as Pope Paul 6th said: “Another word for peace is development.” The true believer is n­­­ot caught up in themselves like the Pharasee in today’s

Gospel. And they are caught up in their own sinfulness; and through that, they can see their solidarity with every living being; and are called to act against injustice and, without fanfare, reach out in the love of Christ to meet the needs of all God’s creatures.

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