6th of the Year, 13 Feb 22
Today`s Mass readings, not unusually, are very powerful. However we might have a look at the kind of land Israel and Judah was – and still is. Most of it is rocky barren land known as the Wilderness of Judea and eking out a living in these areas is no easy task. In contrast there is the fruitful low-lying area around Jericho and the Jordan Valley and further north in Galilee and the Mediterranean coastlands.
Jeremiah, one of the great prophets sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah and his passage from chapter 17 verses 5 to 8 is a warning to his hearers saying that the Lord says: `A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord.` He goes on to compare him to the dry scrub of the wastelands, the wilderness so familiar, who does not recognise when good comes and so settles in the parched places of the wilderness. He then contrasts such individuals with the quotation: `A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope. He is like the tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream…its foliage staying green; having no worries in time of drought and never ceases to bear fruit.`
Our response to today`s Psalm, which is part of Psalm 1, comes from Psalm 39 verse 5 and is that joyful acclamation: `Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord.` This positively affirms what Jeremiah was proclaiming as he sought to prepare his hearers for the coming of the Messiah.
Our Gospel reading from St. Luke chapter 6 verses 17 and 20 to 26 dwells on just four of what we know as the Beatitudes in our Lord`s Sermon on the Plain for notice that he writes “Jesus came down with the Twelve and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples and a great crowd of people from all over the country!. This contrasts with eight Beatitudes that we find in Matthew`s Gospel where he records our Lord`s teaching in his Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 5 of that Gospel.
Luke quotes Jesus as saying: `How happy are you who are poor; yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
`Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.`
As so often, in His teaching, Jesus turns the values of this world upside-down for he declares woes: `Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.
`Alas for you when the world speaks well of you. This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.`
What should we draw from this teaching of both Jeremiah and Lord Jesus ?
Jeremiah is saying, as he refers to the active roots reaching out into the stream is telling his hearers and us that when we are plugged into God who is the source of love, mercy and goodness, we need have no fear of life`s ups and downs, challenges, crises and tragedies we shall still bear fruit. In the desert places of our own lives we can still turn back and trust that God, for whom nothing is impossible will still enable to spring up in us a river of life, by his grace.
The Happy or Blessed ones are those individuals who are all utterly dependent upon God due to their circumstances – the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, the despised. But it is they who are the faithful, the prayerful and in the acknowledgement of their dependence upon God are both serene and aware of the needs of others and seek to meet those needs. Contrariwise, Jesus declares WOES to the well-off, the self-made, socially popular and, in terms of this world, in need of nothing. Yes , it is difficult – but certainly not impossible to hold on to a sense of utter dependence upon God in these materially rich circumstances. We need to remember that dependence upon God is no sign of weakness; rather it keeps us in contact with a never-ending source of strength for the journey.
Perhaps in seeing how the Beatitudes apply to us we can take up the invitation to do something about the situation of the poor and hungry. We might recall that most of us are relatively comfortable people with resources at our command which are denied to others and, as fellow-citizens of the Kingdom of God, are called to be instruments of the Kingdom, a kingdom that is one of justice, love and peace.
Verses 19 and 20 of Chapter 15 of St. Paul`s first letter to the Christians at Corinth reminds us that “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.”
Yes, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we, as his brothers and sisters, are empowered by God`s Holy spirit.