Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C
February 11, 2007
Jer 17:5-8; 1Cor 15:12,16-20;Lk 6:17,20-26
1) There is a huge contrast in today’s readings. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah describes the contrast as essentially one of trust. On the one hand, there are “those who trust in human beings and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.” On the other there are those who “trust in the Lord.” Those who trust in men live, he says, like a “shrub in the desert… parched… a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” Those who trust in the Lord, in contrast, are “like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when the heat comes: its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
2) This insight is crucial for us to understand why Jesus says what he says in the Gospel in his famous Sermon on the Plain. All the beatitudes and woes he describes have to do with whether a condition fosters trust in God or trust in men, material possessions, whether the condition makes us turn toward the Lord or “away from the Lord.”
a. On the subject of money, Jesus says “blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours” and “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” The point he’s making is those who are rich often place their faith, hope and security in money and the things money can buy. Those who are poor often have no one or nothing to turn to but God. In terms of what really matters, their poverty turns out to be a blessing because it helps them to place their treasure in God and stretch out their roots to his eternal stream.
b. On the subject of food, Jesus says “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied” and “woe to you who are now full, for you will be hungry.” It’s those who are really hungry who mean the prayer “give us today our daily bread,” who learn to hunger and trust in God’s fatherly care. Those who are full, who have no food worries, can often begin to take its presence for granted, can stop saying thanks to God for the food. One state helps to bring one closer to God; the other can often help to turn one’s “heart away from the Lord.” In the final analysis, Jesus says one is clearly better for us.
c. With respect to human emotions, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh” and “woe to you who laugh now for you will grieve and weep.” Those who are laughing now can begin to put their trust and happiness in their own wit or in a group of interesting and entertaining friends and experiences. They may experience human contentment and have their desire for eternal happiness lessened. Those who are weeping on the other hand, who are entrusting their pains, sorrows and intercessions to God, are those who will have the time of their eternal lives.
d. The greatest contrast is in terms of how others treat us and think about us. Jesus says “Woe to you when all speak well of you” and “blessed are you when people hate you, exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” He says that the false prophets, the spiritual terrorists and great villains of history, were similarly praised in their lifetime but ended up facing judgment; the real heroes of eternity, the true prophets — and we can add Jesus himself, his apostles and so many saints — were hated, denounced and even killed. They all lived a life, however, of total dependence on God, who trusted in him even and especially when it was hard, and now are rejoicing and leaping for joy forever.
3) Jesus’ logic and focus are very clear. In terms of what’s most important, worldly blessings like riches, food, laughter and praise can be spiritual woes and curses, and worldly woes like poverty, famine, tears and derision can become spiritual blessings It’s a sad truth that the more one is filled with human blessings, the easier it is to push God to the side, to think that one doesn’t need God. The real question each of us needs to face is whether our values, our logic, our focus are like Jesus’ or like the world’s. Many of us if given the chance to be humanly rich like Donald Trump or spiritually wealthy like a poor old holy widow would say, “Show me the money!” If given the choice between being the life of the party or someone who is mocked, misunderstood, or mistreated because of our fidelity to Christ, most of us would say “Party on!” If given the choice between eating filet mignon and lobster or fasting, most of us would respond saying “Pass the butter… and the Grey Poupon.” But like the three temptations Christ will undergo in two weeks, the devil often uses food, or riches, or the promise of power or popularity to draw us away from God. Today Jesus, just as Jeremiah did, describes for us a choice between two types of trust: a genuine trust in God or a trust in the good things of God that the devil can often easily manipulate to draw our hearts away from God.
4) This contrast between two types of trust is starkest in today’s second reading. St. Paul describes two types of people. Those who trust in the reality of the faith in the resurrection of Christ, or those who trust in their own philosophy. Many in Corinth were teaching that Jesus had not risen. The Greeks — like, unfortunately many people again today — didn’t believe in a resurrection of the body. They thought that after death the soul continued to live, but that the body was just a temporary prison from which death liberated the soul permanently. They clung to this Greek philosophical belief and said that bodily resurrection couldn’t and wouldn’t happen. St. Paul came and preached clearly that Christ rose from the dead and said that all of Christian faith was based on this belief. He said, “If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say 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 died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” To bring St. Paul’s language up to 21st century terminology: if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the last person to leave this Church today is the biggest fool, because our faith would crumble like a falling house of cards. Jesus Christ, simply put, PROMISED that he would rise on the third day. If he didn’t rise from the dead, then he was not God, then he was not even a good man, but in fact a liar. All of us who put our faith in him would be pitiable fools.
5) Today’s readings about trust focus ultimately on what faith in God really is and does. Faith is a trust in a person that leads to our trusting what the person says or does. To believe in Jesus Christ means to trust in what he taught and did and base our life on it. Our issue may not be the issue of the resurrection. It may be one of the controversial issues today on which so many in the world want to tell Jesus and the Church he founded that they’re wrong or out-of-touch: it may embryonic stem-cell-research, or the need to put God first on Sunday by coming to Mass, or to forgive our neighbor seventy-times-seven-times, or to confess our sins to a priest, or that we should become one flesh with another only after God has joined us in one flesh to that person through marriage, or that Jesus knew what he was doing when he ordained only men as priests, or that abortion is wrong in every circumstance, or that marriage is between one man and one woman until death. The list could go on. The question is, when confronted with one of these issues, do we trust Jesus enough to trust in what he taught or in what the Church he founded teaches, or do we trust in what Rosie O’Donnell thinks, or Bill O’Reilly opines, or whatever person who says what we like to hear declares? Do we trust in God and the Church he founded to proclaim his Gospel, or do we trust more in our own opinions and ideas?
6) At this Mass today, we have all the members of our Confirmation class who have been doing their pre-Confirmation retreat with me. We began the retreat focused on Jesus’ poll questions in Caesaria Philippi (Mt 16:13-16). The first question was “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The crowds responded with great comparisons: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. All good and holy men. But fallible. Not divine. Then Jesus asked the twelve, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter arose and said, “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.” Moved by God the Father, he confessed Christ to be not just the long-awaited Messiah, but God’s own son. Divine. This type of real faith showed its character about a year later when Jesus said in the synagogue of Capernaum that unless we gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood, we would have no life in us. Many of his disciples — I stress, disciples! — walked away shocked and scandalized, saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Then Jesus turned to the twelve and said, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter stood up again and showed the same type of real faith, real trust in Christ. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:53-69). The teaching on how we would eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood made no more human sense to Peter and the apostles then it did to the disciples who had just abandoned the Lord. It would only make sense one year later, when Jesus would take bread and wine and turn it into his body and blood. But they trusted in Jesus, and therefore trusted in what he said, even and especially when it was hard. They believed. That’s what it means to have faith in God. Peter and the apostles, like countless other saints throughout the centuries, trusted in the Lord and in his promises even when it meant that they would be poor and hungry, even when they would weep , even when they, on account of Christ, would be hated, persecuted and killed. But they were attached to the Vine; they stretched out their roots to his living water, and they were the ones who bore fruit thirty, sixty and a hundred fold, fruit that has endured (Jn 15:1-5; Jn 4:10; Mk 4:8 ).
7) Today at this Mass, along with our enthusiastic and much loved young people preparing for their confirmation, we’re presented with the choice between two paths. It’s the choice between putting our trust fully in Christ or placing it someplace else. We might think it’s a choice between poverty and wealth, between hunger and sumptuous foods, between laughter and tears, between friends and enemies. But that’s not what it’s really about. It’s really a choice between streams of living water or deserts, between fruitfulness or sterility, between beatitude and woe, between life and death. As we help our confirmation students to finish their retreat with an exclamation point, let us with them renew the vows of our baptism and of our confirmation, when we made a choice, a choice against Satan, his evil works and empty promises, and for God the Father, for God the Son, for God the Holy Spirit, for the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. This is our faith! This is the faith of the Church! How proud we are to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen!