A former pastor of mine used to like to say about preaching or teaching, un texto sin contexto es un pretexto, which translates into English pretty much the way it sounds, a text without context is a pretext.
So what was the context for Jesus’ Blessings and Woes in today’s Gospel – and, much more to the point, what is our context within which we hear Jesus’ message today?
Just before this, Jesus had been busy organizing his new community. After a night spent in prayer, he named 12 men to be his apostles, an obvious echo back to the 12 tribes of Israel, and the blessing originally promised the world through Abraham now being fulfilled in Jesus through his chosen Church.
The kingdom of God, however, comes in the context of a world in which it is opposed. The poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the excluded, and the insulted, whom Jesus was addressing, well understood the opposition to the kingdom of God on the part of the rich, the well off, the powerful, and the popular.
Notice, however, that throughout his sermon Jesus spoke in the second person. He was not talking abstractly about economic, social, political, and cultural inequality the way a secular social scientist might. In a world in which the top 1% percent now owns some 50% of the world's wealth, a disparity which has been growing not shrinking for decades now, such analysis is important. But Jesus in today’s Gospel was taking that analysis way farther – farther and deeper into the hearts of his hearers. For he was talking directly to his disciples, which is to say, to us. Blessed are you, blessed are we, who are poor. Woe to you, woe to us, who are rich. He wasn’t praising his disciples and denouncing the pagans, comparing and contrasting them as if they were two opposing political parties. He was challenging his disciples, us, to examine our own consciences about what wealth and power and popularity mean to us, what role they play in our lives, their corrupting effect upon our relationships with the rest of the world, with the rest of God’s people, and the obstacles they build between us and the kingdom of God.
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, February 17, 2019.