Theme: Essentials for living
Today’s declarations of ‘blessedness’ and threatening ‘woes’ offer us a choice between two ways of life; one of which is bumps and potholed, yet a place to meet God and a venue where God’s power is a prelude for blessings yet come. The other way plots a path for destruction; a dead end street, a cul-de-sac, the way of self-centeredness and others that leads nowhere. It is by embracing the reality of the human situation we able to make a journey that is worth living.
First reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8
Jeremiah used nature to illustrate failed commitment by contrasting the way of the wicked with the way of the just which are like a stunted shrub to a well-watered tree. In the verse immediately preceding this text, Jeremiah had prophesied doom for those who trust in human ways rather than in the divine will as he watched Babylonian invade Judah around 597 B.C when Zedekiah was king. This weak puppet leader had ignored Jeremiah’s advice and made an alliance with Egypt against the Babylonians. Being a staunch defender of the covenant, Jeremiah exhorted him to forego all other alliances, save that of the covenant to which they had been invited by God. When his advice was ignored, Jeremiah used the image of the barren bush in the desert to portray the folly and futility of trusting in human allies. His prediction was realized in less than ten years as he had foreseen: “You will relinquish your hold on your heritage which I have given you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land that you knew not” Jeremiah 17:4
For those who clung to the will of God and are faithful to the covenant are like a fruitful tree that holds out great hope. Those with hearts firmly rooted in the ways of God would be able to withstand the heat and remain green and enduring the drought by continuing to bear fruit. Their rootedness in God provides a steady source of strength and sustenance. As we read this text today, centuries after Jeremiah, it reminds us not to betray the true covenant.
Second reading: 1Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
As was his custom, Paul chose to exercise his gospel ministry in strategically located cities, from which he hoped the good news would spread to the surrounding regions. After he had established a sure foundation and had entrusted the day to day leadership of the community to capable elders, he moved on to other areas which had not yet been evangelized. Yet Paul maintained contact with the Churches he had founded by letter and or by personal messengers. When news reached him that there were difficulties/disputes among the believers, Paul acted swiftly to correct the situation. This first letter to the Corinthians was occasioned by several issues one of which was the Greek Christians questioning the resurrection. In this text, Paul corrects their erroneous thinking by clearing their doubts.
Written about 53-54 A.D. this text is one of the earliest doctrinal presentations on resurrection. Paul was well aware that his Greek converts had formerly ascribed to platonic philosophy which denigrated the body as a burdensome mortal prison from which the superior mind and spirit longed to be released. Against this background, bodily glorification was inconceivable; instead they viewed death not as a passage of a risen person with body and soul to fuller life but merely as a means of freeing the soul of its bodily shackles. At the same time some converts exercised certain selectivity in regard to the gospel, accepting some doctrines and rejecting others. Others claimed that their participation in the sacraments afforded them a spiritual experience that superseded the resurrection and therefore rendered moot any discussion thereof. With astute logic, Paul argued that if they rejected the notion of their own resurrection, they were in effect denying the resurrection of Jesus and undermining the central tenet of the Christian faith.
To reject the Christ event of his passion, death and glorification was to reject the gift of salvation and the very means by which God effected the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of sinners. Doing so was to admit that sin, evil and death continued to reign supreme. If this was the case, then Faith would be futile while our hope would be in vain. Paul insists, “If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of people” 1Corinthians 15:19. In an effort to redirect their thinking, Paul challenged the Corinthians to accept Christ as the aparche “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” 1Corinthians 15:20.
Gospel Luke 6:17, 20-26
No matter how many times this gospel is proclaimed, it appears to be a contradiction in terms to describe the poor, hungry and sorrowful as blessed and the rich, full and happy as woeful. Yet, our understanding of this gospel depends first on our grasping the functions of beatitudes and woes in antiquity and second on our perception of the meaning of the key terms used by Luke. As regards function, the beatitude was a specific genre found in both Greek and Jewish literature cf. Daniel 12:12. Adopted for use by Christian writers, the beatitude consisted of a pronouncement of blessedness/makarios followed by who is blessed and why. The declaration of blessedness does not confer or impart a blessing; nor is it an exhortation to be or to do something, for example to be poor or to be hungry. Rather, the beatitude exalts a person on the basis of some good fortune and as a way of celebrating the blessed person’s success.
Nevertheless, it still seems unusual to declare as blessed, or to extend congratulations to someone on the basis of their poverty, hunger and what have you. For this reason, the beatitudes must be understood as eschatological statements which see and evaluate the present in terms of the future. One uttering the beatitude does so from a position within the councils of God and with an awareness of the ultimate outcome of history as, for example, a prophet. Paradoxically, the content of the beatitude is usually in polar opposition to the person’s present circumstances. Nevertheless, blessedness is pronounced and congratulations are appropriate despite present trouble and because of what will ultimately be. Therefore the poor, hungry and sorrowful are blessed now because of the divine power to reverse the fortunes of those whose lives are totally dependent on and given over to the providence of God.
Similarly, the woes pronounced upon the rich, the full and those who laugh, function as an expression of sadness, not because of the person’s present circumstances but because of what will ultimately be. Those who are satisfied with temporal and material things and whose base of security is firmly rooted in existential gratifications are enjoying their blessed reward here and now. When their fortunes are ultimately reversed, these will find; much to their woe, that their future blessedness has already been squandered away. Beatitudes challenge us to act resiliently and to focus toward a far future instead of celebrating all our hard achieved treasures now. Beatitudes are for long term future and secure investment.
Jeremiah pronounces as blessed those who trust in God rather than in their own human devices because these are the people those who can survive any and all difficulties. Today we need to check how steady our trust in God is. Paul reminds us to stretch our hopes beyond this life; as believers in a risen Lord, we must trust that our life is leading us to safe destination. Today Paul provokes us to ask ourselves: How does my belief in the resurrection of Jesus affect the way I live; my thoughts about death; the plans I make for the future; the way I mourn the deaths of others? Luke declares the blessedness of the human condition for those who choose to be poor, hungry, to weep; that they should rejoice because in doing so they provide a special venue for God’s activity in the world. In polar opposition to these blessed ones are the rich, the full and the self-absorbed whose lives are so stated with fleeting joys of this world that there is no room and need for God. Through beatitudes we are challenged to view life carefully. Read this:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things; I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have the praise; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for; I am, among people most richly blessed’.