Homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today’s readings present vivid imagery for comparison: barren bushes vs. verdant trees; parched lava vs. moist fertile soil; withering death vs. fruitful life; hunger and thirst vs. satisfaction; curses vs. blessings; mourning vs. comfort; rejection vs. approval; grieving vs. laughter.
We naturally desire the latter categories, but we have to ask ourselves whether God sees us as the tree planted near running water or as the chaff which the wind blows away. Do we qualify as the poor who are blessed, or are we more likely to be considered the rich who have already received our consolation? Someone once said that the Scriptures were written to bring comfort to those who were in distress and to make the comfortable uneasy. So what are we feeling this morning? Comfortable or uneasy?
First we hear from the Prophet Jeremiah. Though Jeremiah uses the generic “one,” in this oracle, he is directing his curse toward Jehoiakim, also known as Eliakim, the king of Judah who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Judah in the years immediately before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. In the face of Assyria’s overpowering military might, Eliakim made a pact with the Assyrian King and turned away from the worship of the God of Israel. So he is the “one” who placed his trust in a human being and turned his heart from the Lord. Jeremiah uses the metaphor of a tree planted in a lava or salt waste to describe the state of the southern kingdom before it was led into exile. The prophet asks us where we place our trust.
Psalm 1 takes this same metaphor and polishes it, creating a poem that stands at the head of the psalter and tells us that as we plunge into the Book of Psalms, we will be examined on our relationship based on our observance of the Law of the Lord. Psalm 1 is one of the few psalms that lacks a title. It and Psalm 2 were actually placed at the head of the book much the same way that a modern author offers us an introduction or preface.
In the Gospel today, we hear St. Luke’s version of the first sermon or discourse of Jesus. Immediately before this in the Gospel, Jesus had singled out twelve of his disciples to be apostles. What is the difference between the two? A disciple was a student or follower. An apostle is one who is sent with Jesus’ message and shares in Jesus’ power. Jesus chose the Twelve to preach the Gospel and to continue to bring healing to those who follow Jesus. With power comes abuse of power. Just so that they would not let the notion of being chosen go to their heads, he draws them aside and tells them what being an apostle will mean. The four blessings and four woes are directed to them especially as it is their preaching and their power which will bring the Good News of Jesus to the world.
We Westerners believe that money is power. These Middle Eastern people, however, thought power brought wealth. If one was powerful, that power could be used to take, buy or extort the wealth of others. So these blessings and woes of which Jesus speaks are warnings that they should not use their power to their own advantage. Sadly, the history of the church, particularly in our own time, has seen many of our leaders abuse their power in ways that most of us find revolting.
Both Jeremiah and the Gospel passage teach us that a true disciple and a true apostle is one who places one’s trust in God, not in material wealth or power. The Gospel frequently uses the notion or theme of the reversal of fortune to teach us how to live this life so that we can enjoy the life that is to come. We are called to a life that is dedicated to the pursuit of God’s wisdom, placing our trust in God and sharing the gifts of this world with those around us. We are not to lord it over others. Jesus teaches that the master is really the one who serves.
This teaching is completely borne out by Jesus who trusted in God so much that he was willing to die for others. His seeming defeat in his death on the cross ultimately became his victory as he rose from the dead. St. Paul writes to the community of Corinth that those who teach that there is no resurrection of the dead are false prophets who have, like King Eliakim, placed their trust in human beings rather than in the wisdom and power of God.
So it isn’t the size of our bank account which decides on which side of these comparisons we find ourselves. Rather it is the issue of trust in God which will reveal who is blessed and who is cursed.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator