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Sunday Scripture: Here we have no lasting city

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

By Terrance Callan

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time:  Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26

It is uncomfortable to feel that we do not belong in some situation. Often our spontaneous reaction is to find a way to fit in as well as possible. But sometimes we realize that changing to fit in better would be wrong. Then we must simply endure being out of place.

The reading from the Gospel according to Luke is the beginning of a long speech by Jesus (i.e., Luke 6:17-49). This is sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain because Jesus spoke on level ground after coming down from a mountain. This speech resembles the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel according to Matthew (i.e., Matthew 5-7).

Jesus began the Sermon on the Plain with four beatitudes. He blessed those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated because of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount also began with beatitudes.
However, in the Sermon on the Plain Jesus continued with four woes that are not found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus pronounced woe upon those who are rich, full, laughing and well-received.

Jesus’ beatitudes and woes strongly imply that as followers of Jesus we must be poor, hungry, weeping and hated. Why? The only hint of an explanation is Jesus’ statement that true prophets were hated, while false prophets were well-received.  We must be like the true prophets. Jesus seems to presuppose that our world is disordered. It does not stand in a proper relationship to God, acknowledging God as its creator and Lord. Those who prosper in this world participate in its disorder; they do well because they embrace the corrupt values of the world. If someone does stand in a proper relationship with God and lives according to those values, that person will not prosper in this world. Thus Jesus called His followers to be poor, hungry, weeping and hated, not because these things are good, but because this will be the condition of anyone who follows Jesus in this world.

However, Jesus also looked forward to a future when this will no longer be true. The poor will possess the reign of God; the hungry will be filled; the weeping will laugh; those hated will receive a great reward. When this world is replaced by a world over which God reigns in the fullest sense, everything will be turned upside down. Those who have prospered in this world will not prosper in the reign of God; and those who have not prospered in this world will prosper in the reign of God.

The reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah curses the person who trusts in human beings and blesses the person who trusts in God. This is what underlies Jesus’ beatitudes and woes. Those whom Jesus blesses are those who trust in God; those on whom He pronounces woe are those who trust in human beings.
Jeremiah compares the person who trusts in human beings to a tree whose roots reach out for moisture where none is to be found.  The person who trusts in God is “like a tree planted beside the waters.”  The roots of such a tree stretch out to an unfailing source of water.
The reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians emphasizes the importance of our belief that Christ was raised from the dead. Christ’s resurrection assures us that this world will be replaced by one that is fully subject to God. We accept our poverty, hunger, sorrow and persecution now, awaiting their reversal when the kingdom is fully established.
If Christ was not raised, and our hopes are groundless, we are in a bad state. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.”

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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