When he was a young adult Peter Kitundu met the missionary doctor in Kiomboi, TZ. With the help of that doctor Peter later travelled to MN for college and medical school. Peter met and married Mary and together they returned to Tanzania so Peter could fulfill his calling to serve as a medical doctor in his home country. Peter died a very old man having served his people ravaged by population explosion, droughts, famines, curable diseases and AIDS. Life expectancy in TZ was 46 years when Peter met the medical missionary. Now it is 67.
Today Paul reminds us that in Jesus’ resurrection God makes obvious that God loves us enough to give his only son, and that death does not have the last word. God’s Word is first and last.
With the first Word God created the world. God provided the necessities of life for all: clean air, clean fresh water, plenty of food, clothing as needed, shelter sufficient … and God said it all is good.
For generations we have perverted our unequal gifts from God into a measure of God’s blessing. We turned our having more than enough into an entitlement and a proof that God favours us and does not favour other people who do not have enough in order to survive.
While we can be that evil, God also provides for us the great wisdom that Jeremiah points us to. Like trees planted next to streams of flowing water God’s wisdom gives us endurance even through times of drought, times when around us all wisdom and truth evaporate.
In today’s Gospel Jesus provides some of this wisdom for us, a corrective to our perversion that our abundance is proof that we are blessed and the poor are not. Jesus proclaims that the poor are the ones who are blessed, that those who hunger are blessed, that those who mourn are blessed, that those who others revile are blessed.
Brian Rude receives guests in Central America, introducing them to Christians caught in desperate poverty. Even as the people who live there fear that they or their family members or their friends will be ‘disappeared’, these poor people worship with gratitude, these people celebrate exuberantly. Like the people in TZ, these Christians know how to love: more proof that God indeed blesses people who are poor, who are hungry, who mourn, who are reviled.
Still there are many times in history when we stubbornly refuse to accept what the Gospel teaches and Liberation Theology reminds us of: that God has a preferential option for the poor, that God blesses the poor more than the wealthy, who today are among the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth.
Instead we have turned Jesus’ blessing of the poor into an excuse not to work to provide justice also for them. We have said, mistakenly so, that the poor have earned their poverty and we have earned our wealth. That’s how God created us: we are privileged and they are lazy and deserve what they get, or rather they deserve that they do not get what they need to survive.
We have mistakenly said it in many and various ways: The poor will always be with us. Poverty and homelessness cannot be ended. There is not enough for everyone so some people will always go without. Life is a zero sum game.
We end it all by saying: we do not need to change how it is for them because God blesses them in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin.
As if knowing we would turn their blessings into our excuses not to love them Jesus adds a series of warnings for the rich people.
Woe to the rich, to the well fed, to the joyful, to those spoken well of, for they have received blessings, but in eternity God will not provide for them at all.
We like to forget these passages, or pretend that they do not apply to us. Yet in many and various ways there are those among us in every generation who remind us that our blessings are not ours to keep. They are meant to be shared with those who do not have enough.
Last week an amber alert garnered over 300 responses as they looked for a missing 11 year old girl. The calls were not about the girl. They were from people who felt entitled to use 911 to complain that the amber alert had been sent out after 11 pm and disturbed their sleep. These complaints almost kept the lines too busy for the helpful responses to get through; still the help was too late.
Dorothy Soelle, theologian d.2003 added 2 items to the list of the necessities of life. She added: meaningful labour, and love (both to be loved and the opportunity to love others.) We know that the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and those reviled often have great capacity to love; to love their neighbours as themselves, and to love even their enemies; and to love God with all their hearts, minds and strength. Jesus pronounced this blessing for the common people on the plain.
By comparison this is what most rich, well fed, joyful, those spoken well of are missing. They seem too often incapable of accepting God’s gift’s as blessings to share. Something obstructs their knowing how to love their neighbours or themselves, and especially how to love their enemies. They love the security their abundance provides so much that they have no room left to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength … and that is the greatest curse of all. Without love, we are nothing.
Love, so profound that one loves one’s enemies, is only possible when we recognize that God first loves us, though we do not deserve it.
When we accept God’s undeserved love and blessings with gratitude, then we are able to graciously love others with this same unbounded love. We are able to share not only the over-abundance we have. By God’s Grace and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we are able to share the necessities of life with others even when that means we will share in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin of reputation.
Peter Kitundu’s legacy did not end with his death in 2011. His widow, Mary, and that medical missionary and numerous other people joined together to rebuild some of the basics of health care in TZ. Peter’s brother eventually convinced this group, who call themselves IHP-TZ (ihptz.org), to take 30 acres he had north of Dar es Salaam and build the first hospital for children in TZ. With funds raised by that medical missionary now in his 90’s, the local crew and visiting medical, construction, and all kinds of volunteers from around the world make the next part of the hospital a reality.
There is another true story, originally about an Appalachian family in the US. It is perhaps truer for us if told set in the north of AB.
A social worker is assigned a family that she finally finds in the wilderness far from any other people or road. When she arrives on snowmobile they treat her with great respect and honour offering her tea from the wood stove in the two room drafty log cabin. The father arrives home with a freshly shot moose while she assesses whether the young children ought to be in school. It is obvious to her that they are on the edge of survival. Satisfied that these people are providing a good education for their children she prepares to leave. The father wraps up a piece of moose meat as a gift for her. She starts to refuse it, appalled that she would take anything away from the little they have. Seeing her resistance the father with wisdom, welling up from ancient streams of truth, insists she accept their gift saying, “I know it looks like we are poor, but we are not poor. You are only poor if you cannot give something to others.”
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Having received so much, we each have so much to give, or not! Amen