God's path leads to success

  • February 8, 2010
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Feb. 14 (Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26)

Do we need God? That seems to be the question of our age, and for many the answer is a resounding “no.”

The humanist or atheist claims that religion is dangerous and retrograde. Humans can do quite well on their own and have no need of silly superstitions and childish beliefs. Human efforts will do just fine — far better to rely on science, technology and human reason.

But the religious believer should not be too quick to respond indignantly to these assertions for they might be surprised to find themselves unknowingly on the same page as the atheist. They might be guilty of something quite common — “practical atheism.” This is professing a belief in God but living as if God did not exist. Many, believers or not, want immediate and spectacular results to their needs and preferably with a personal benefit. This can be the case in solving one’s personal problems, fixing the economy or environment, undertaking projects or combating violence and terrorism.

Jeremiah’s warning should be heeded by all: if we look for an easy path or a quick fix that is not based solidly on spiritual principles we are doomed to failure and disappointment. Not only that, if we happen to have turned over our integrity, honour or freedom in exchange for lavish promises, we might end up feeling as if we have been cursed. We discover who we are and what we are made of when we are faced with adversity and difficult challenges.

It is very easy to slip into patterns of thought and behaviour that do not come from God but from the world with all of its fear and selfishness. These are the situations that call for a firm commitment to God and to the principles of justice, compassion and sharing that God has taught humanity for millennia. Human efforts that are anchored firmly in these divine principles will not only succeed but flourish.

No resurrection of the dead? What a strange thing for members of a first-century Christian community to say! But perhaps an over-emphasis on the present life and the here-and-now blinded some of the people in the Corinthian community to the “big picture.” Sometimes fear and the urgency of immediate needs can drive people to lose their way and grasp frantically for quick and easy answers. Some in Corinth could not comprehend the personal and immediate importance of the death and resurrection of Christ. But Paul insists that we will only understand the Resurrection fully when we dwell eternally with the Lord. In the meantime, the quality of the life we live while on Earth orients us towards that eternal goal. Patience and persistence are crucial. 

In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes Jesus addresses the overemphasis on the present in stark but puzzling terms. How can those who are poor, hungry and weeping be blessed? Isn’t the promise of food, the Kingdom of God and happiness just “pie in the sky” promises to make life more bearable? What is wrong with those who are rich or who have enough to eat — and why should those who are happy now be destined to mourn and weep? But this disturbing “shock language” urges us to keep our eyes and minds fixed on the horizon as well as in front of us. The security and comfort that we think we have can be very transitory and fleeting — especially when they rest on a questionable foundation. Luke believed that the moment was at hand for God’s intervention in a very broken and unjust human world. Human institutions and societies would be wiped away and a new divine world order built in their place. This social reversal is mirrored in Jesus’ statement that the first will be last and the last will be first. Those who suffered poverty, sorrow and oppression would change places with the comfortable and satisfied.

We have seen millionaires become paupers overnight and powerful people fleeing for their lives or in prison. Homes can be destroyed in minutes and lives altered forever in a matter of seconds. The only secure foundation for any society is divine justice. The only security that can never be shaken or taken away is our active, living faith in God and the love we bear in our hearts for others.