Underdogs

(Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time, cycle A)

When your hometown sports team is not competing, like for example in the Super Bowl, who do you root for, the llamados or the dejados? The llamados are the favorites and the dejados, the underdogs. If you ask me, I usually go for the underdogs but I am not making a money bet. It is too risky, isn’t it? Besides, I don’t gamble. Conventional wisdom tells you not to make a bet on the dejados, especially when you gamble. Our faith tells us that God loves everyone. But in the Scripture readings today, we get the idea that God is favoring the underdogs. Today’s gospel passage quotes directly from the first reading, Isaiah. “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those whose dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.”

 

The prophet Isaiah sees more than what his contemporaries can see. He looks at tragedy and knows that God can bring light to a people who walk in darkness. The people from the land of Zebulon and Naphtali were the dejados because they were among the first ones to go into exile. Isaiah saw their misery and reassured them that they were not forgotten and gave them hope with a vision of restoration.

 

And this is the place where Jesus started to preach about the Kingdom of God. So Jesus, the light bearer, brings his message first to the dejados, the lowest, the most defeated, to the Galileans. It was also in Galilee where Jesus chose his first disciples. The Galileans were the first followers of Jesus and these were the people who were politically oppressed because the Pharisees and the Sadducees, religious leaders and authorities, looked down on them and considered their religious status as inferior and impure. They were simply the underdogs, the dejados, not God’s favorites, the llamados.

 

But Jesus changed all that. He gave preference to them and started his ministry there and performed many miracles. Jesus went to those who stood no chance of their own, and there in a place of rejection, where people walked in darkness, cause the darkness to be dispelled and the light to shine. In the social teachings of Church there is what we call the principle of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’ This social and moral principle teaches and urges us to give priority to the poor because this is what Jesus did. This is what Jesus tells us to do.

 

Pope Francis epitomizes this practice of giving priority to the dejados, to the disadvantaged, the less fortunate among us. In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he included what according to him he had often said to the priests and the laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I don’t want a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which gives us a sense of false security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat.” (Mk 6:37)

 

This is what it means by rooting for the underdogs, the dejados. As a parish community we are given opportunities to give priority to the poor by reaching out to them. We are fortunate to have a group of volunteers from the St. Vincent de Paul, St. Patrick Conference that are serving the less fortunate among us. But they need our support as a community. One of our SVdP volunteers will speak to us and tell us what they do and how we can help them help others, especially the dejados.