Jeremiah warns about putting our trust in mere human resources. Even powerful and famous personalities can lead us astray. We should put our primary trust in the Lord, and be grateful for his guidance in our lives.
Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. "
Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked;
nor lingers in the way of sinners
nor sits in the company of scorners,
but whose delight is the law of the Lord
and who ponders his law day and night. (R./)
He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper. (R./)
Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
shall be driven away by the wind.
For the Lord guards the way of the just
but the way of the wicked leads to doom. (R./)
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Anyone who has been to the Holy Land, and who has seen the rocky landscape and barren yellow soil of the southern part of it in particular, would regard a description of it as a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Num 13:27) as being rather an exaggeration. Yet such was the report received by Moses from the twelve spies he had sent ahead to explore the country, when he and his followers first arrived at its borders. We must of course make allowances for the enthusiasm of the spies, considering that, since they had left Egypt, they had been wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai desert, which was even less hospitable. The truth is that the Promised Land of ancient times was a place of two extremes - the wilderness of much of Judaea in the south, where few living things could survive, and the extraordinary fertility of Galilee in the north, with its thriving population. And this familiarity with the two extremes in nature was one which perhaps coloured the Israelites" thinking when it came to describing theirown response to God's call.
We find ample illustration of this in Moses" last discourse to his followers (Deut 30:15): "See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, he will bless you; but if you refuse to listen, if your heart strays, you will most certainly perish. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life," he urged them, "that you may live in the love of the Lord, your God, obeying him, clinging to him."
Here we have the concept of "The Two Ways'- one good, one evil - a concept which figured prominently in the moral teaching of the early Church. It appears also in the gospel today, with its four beatitudes and four woes, and in particular in the first reading from Jeremiah, where the prophet links it symbolically with the extremes of nature found in Israel. A curse on the one who trusts only in human resources - he will be like the dry scrub in the parched areas of the wilderness. But a blessing on the one who places his trust in the Lord. He is like the tree planted near water, which never fades, never ceases to bear fruit.
If you open the Book of Psalms, you will find the same idea of the "two ways" - almost the same words - in the first Psalm, which forms today's Responsorial Psalm, and which is a kind of preface to the entire Book, and indeed summarises the whole moral teaching there. The strange thing about today's gospel sermon by Jesus is that it is addressed, not to the crowds, but to the disciples - "Then, fixing his eyes on the disciples, he said," - implying that the sermon is meant for those who have already decided to follow Christ. Jesus warns them not to allow themselves be harnessed to the things of the world.
The same warning was issued many times by the prophets: "Woe to those who add house to house, and join field to field, until everything belongs to them" - in other words, woe to the speculators and those who seek a monopoly of the world's resources. "Woe to those who from early morning chase after strong drink, and stay up late at night inflamed with wine" - that is those who are pleasure seekers. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light" - that is those who subvert morality and seek to lead others astray. "Woe to those who for a bribe acquit the guilty and cheat the good man of his due" - that is those who lack all sense of justice and honesty in dealing with others. Human nature does not change. All these are just as relevant today as when the prophets first proclaimed them (Is 5:8-23).
Then there are people with no lofty aspirations, the poor and destitute, those burdened with sorrows, those persecuted for trying to pursue the ideals of Christ - the only refuge for all these is to place their trust in divine providence; and Jesus says, happy are these people when they do so, because their confidence will be surely rewarded by God. Here Christ has turned upside down accepted worldly standards. If you set out with all your energy to acquire the things which the world regards as valuable, you will in all probability get them. But that will be your sole reward, he says. Whereas, if you set out to be loyal to God and true to the message of Christ, you may be mocked and insulted by the world, but your reward is still to come. And that reward will be joy eternal, and nobody will take it from you.
(1) In the Beatitudes Jesus is not expressing a pious wish for something entirely unreal and outside of history. As they are presented in St Luke's version, they are, to say the least, controversial. They are a challenge thrown down to us, because so much of what we see contradicts these statements. People who are poor and hungry, people who are weeping are not happy. What Jesus says is that if they really understand the situation they are in before God, they will be glad. Wealth and a full stomach are not a recipe for misery. But Jesus warns those who are comfortable that if they really understood their situation they would not be so happy. The things that are most important are not being poor or rich, being hungry or well-fed. This is a truth that most people accept in a notional way, or as a pious wish. Jesus invites us to begin to base or behaviour on it.
(2) People often feel morally guilty about their use of bad language. They may feel obliged to confess that they have been "cursing." Yet in today's first reading we hear: "a curse on the man who..." This "curse "is really intended as a warning. It is not intended as a prayer that really wishes ill to anyone in particular. What is forbidden most of all by the command not to "curse" is wishing or still worse praying for ill against a particular person - and so committing such an ill against them in your heart. The "woes" here are not curses, but an expression full of the regret, pity and sorrow that Jesus showed when he wept over Jerusalem. Bad language sometimes conveys an element of real wishing for another's ill. More often it may offend against the spirit of the Beatitudes by dishonouring or humanity, by taking from the dignity and respect that is due to other people, and indeed to ourselves.
(3) St Luke has taken some pains to emphasise that Jesus' words are addressed to the poor, the hungry, the suffering now. There are plenty of people in the world who are poor, hungry, and suffering now. Perhaps we are among them? If so the Beatitudes are addressed especially to us. It may still take a mighty movement of faith for us to see that the kingdom of God really does transform our situation. If there is little faith in our lives before suffering touches us, we will find faith hard to summon up when the day comes.
(4) If we cannot honestly count ourselves among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering, we can do more than just take to heart the warnings that follow. We can remember that the beatitudes here are especially addressed to the poor and hungry. We can take up the invitation to do something about the situation of the poor and hungry. We can recall that we, the comfortable people with resources at our command that are denied to others, are called to be the instruments of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is one of justice, love and peace. For justice, love and peace, there is a price to pay.
In today's passage from Jeremiah, I notice the active role of the roots that stretch to the stream. What are we stretching out toward? I also like the reality and honesty of the heat and drought which inevitably comes. Life is like that. Ups and downs. Challenges. Crisis. Tragedy. Nevertheless, when one remains plugged into God who is the source of all love, mercy, and goodness, one will still bear fruit and green leaves. When one plants himself elsewhere, one stands in desolation. If we find ourselves in a desolate place we can still place our trust in God and trust that God, for whom nothing is impossible, can spring a river of life up beside us at our conversion and by his grace.
The homily could start from the second reading from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It would remind the faithful of our beliefs in the afterlife in heaven - and with God. Is this something we ever think of? When have we thought of our own mortality last? When have we thought of heaven last? Do we truly believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Do we believe that we too shall be raised from the dead? Perhaps it is time in your faith community to ponder these questions to simply keep the minds of the faithful heavenward.
Another theme: Dependence is Not a Sign of Weakness. This is well rooted in salvation history. When mankind walks humbly, takes care of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, and is utterly dependent upon God then true happiness and peace ensues. When mankind gets prosperous, fat, lazy, self-seeking, independent, and disregards the marginalized then trouble ensues. True happiness is nowhere to be found. The grace of God is scarce.
The Beatitudes list the kind of people who are called Blessed. It is by no accident that these individuals are all utterly dependent upon God due to their circumstances - the poor, the hungry, the sad, the despised. They are the faithful, they are prayerful people. They are like trees who can weather the drought by stretching their roots to the underground water. They are dependent upon God and feel serene. On the contrary are those to whom Jesus says WOE. They have a false sense of security. They are well-off, socially popular and in need of nothing. It is difficult - but not impossible - to hold on to a sense of utter dependence upon God in these situations. Dependence upon God is not a sign of weakness; rather it keeps one in contact with a never-ending source of strength.
Is méanar dóibh siúd ar a ngairtear Biáide nó beannaithe. Ní de bharr taisme a tharlaíonn sé amhladh mar go bhfuil seasamh na ndaoine úd ar Dhia toisc go bhfuilid beo bocht, ocrach, in ísle brí, go ndéantar beag is fiú díobhtha. Is dream dílis deabóideach iad agus cumas iontu a bhpréabhacha a shá go doimhin sa talamh ar thóir uisce in aimsear na triomaíochta. Táid ag braith ar an Tiarna ach is méanar dóibh. Ní hamhlaidh dóibh siúd a thug an Tiarna rabhadh dóibh.Tá breall orthu in a gcuid sástachta. Táid go maith as sa saol, faoi mheas i measc a gcairde agus gan easnamh d'aon tsaghas orthu. Is deacair, ach ag an am gcéanna indéanta, dá leithéid e dhaoine bheith ar aon aigne leis an Tiarna. Ní comhartha laige do sheasamh a bheith agat ar an Tiarna; go deimhin féin is nasc iontach le an neart gan teorainn, an Tiarna Dia.
(Aistrithe ag an tAth. Uinseann, OCSO)