The God of life has final say

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • February 5, 2007

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Feb. 11 (Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26)

Is trust in other people such a bad thing? Couldn’t our world use a bit more trust and less suspicion and cynicism? At first glance, the passage from Jeremiah seems to defy common sense. But if we read carefully, it is clear that trust is not the real issue. It is this: what is the source of your inspiration, power and strength?

Some draw their power and strength not only through human beings, but through human structures, institutions and ideologies. All of these are flawed, for they are interwoven with self-interest, fear and greed. Even the most noble-minded are affected. And sooner or later they are going to let us down — that is the “curse” the prophet speaks of — and we are going to experience disillusionment and disappointment. The failure of governments, political and economic systems, education and even religious institutions to deal with human problems in a satisfactory manner is a prime example. Jeremiah contrasts that with those who “trust in the Lord.” This is not just a pious platitude, but an effective principle. Those who draw guidance, inspiration, hope and strength from a divine rather than a human source will flourish like a tree planted by the water.

We still must work with and through human institutions and efforts, but our foundation should be in God. And that is the problem with our efforts now: we all want peace, a just world and for human beings to flourish and be happy. But if we want those things, as we should, we have to achieve them in God’s way rather than our own. When we are willing to put away self-interest and power politics and put in their place justice, honesty, compassion and forgiveness, then peace will come.

Paul continues his efforts to convince elements of the Corinthian community that the resurrection of Jesus has everything to do with them and how they live. The resurrection is far more than a doctrine — it is a way of life based on joy, gratitude and hope. Life matters, what we do matters, and despite how bleak things may appear, the God of life has the final say.

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes differs considerably from that of Matthew. It is abbreviated — there are four beatitudes rather than Matthew’s eight. Gone are the meek, merciful, pure in heart and the peacemakers. He also adds a list of corresponding “woes” that are not exactly in the “have a nice day” category.

It’s easy to see why Matthew’s version is so deeply imprinted in our minds, for it is clearly more inspiring. But if we look carefully at Luke’s Beatitudes, we see that it mirrors Mary’s Magnificat. It anticipates a great social reversal and a restoration of a just society and is meant to give hope and encouragement. First of all, he blesses the poor — economically poor, rather than the poor in spirit. He also blesses those who are hungry in the real sense of the word rather than a metaphorical hunger for righteousness. Those who weep, presumably the victims of injustice, oppression and poverty, are also blessed. All of them — the poor, hungry and weeping — will soon receive comfort and relief. The rich, the satisfied — in short, all those who are benefiting from an unjust world — will soon find the tables turned in a big way.

In the world that Luke believed God was preparing to create, they will find themselves empty-handed and powerless. This is a great message for the first century, but from our standpoint 20 centuries later, we might ask the big question: When? Does this not run the risk of being a “pie in the sky” type of consolation or Marx’s “opiate of the masses”? Not if we take it as an invitation from God to join in the creation of a just and peaceful world. Being persecuted for the sake of the Son of Man does not apply merely to religious persecution. Standing up for the principles of justice and compassion as Jesus did will also invite persecution. Luke assures us that this is a sign that one is doing something right.

Beware when the world pats you on the back and tells you what a fine job you are doing. Doing things God’s way is the road less travelled.