Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness, c. 1500 Juan De Flandes (c. 1460-1519) Oil on wood panel

God's Word on Sunday: God builds the roots of our inner strength

  • February 15, 2019

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

Water is absolutely essential for life and that is the reason it is used in the Bible as a symbol of God’s life-giving spirit. 

We have all seen pictures of areas affected by drought or where the desert has advanced into previously fertile land. The withered and lifeless skeletal forms of dead trees and vegetation are an eerie reminder of life that has departed. 

Jeremiah uses the symbol to great effect in contrasting two kinds of people. The first type, which is probably the most common, is the person who constantly looks outside of themselves for support, strength and identity. They do not believe in themselves; they lean on others and draw energy from them. Their identity and sense of security lies in possessions, reputation, recognition and success. But all these things are fleeting and fickle. 

There usually comes a day when these props fail them and their lives come crashing down. Without inner resources, they wither and die spiritually and often psychologically. 

The other type of person is like a tree that has sunk its roots deep into the waters of a stream. It thrives regardless of the heat, drought or other challenges, and it always bears fruit. This same image is reflected in the psalm: “The person who walks in the way of Lord is like a tree planted by a stream of water, it is always fruitful, and its leaves never wither.”

We all need to make choices about the source of our strength and identity, both as individuals and as a Church. There is nothing outside of us, no created thing, that will fulfill our needs or provide security. As a Church, we have at times relied more on power, wealth and reputation, perhaps letting our roots wither and die. 

Our faith and spirituality must be more than talk. By drawing our strength from within — the realm of God’s spirit — we will become a rock or fortress in the face of the challenges that life can deal us. 

One of the weaknesses of many modern people is a lack of staying power. There is a tendency to cut and run and avoid the challenges and obstacles that come our way. God will not be moved and God will never let us down. In the uncertain world in which we live, it is those who sink their roots deeply into God’s life-giving spirit that will weather the storm and thrive.

What if Jesus had not been raised from the dead? Unfortunately, there are those who are quite willing to throw the resurrection of Christ out of their belief system. They say that it is naïve and represents ancient pre-critical thinking. But it was no easier to believe in the Resurrection in the first century than now. 

Paul explains to some of the folks in Corinth where their faulty thinking leads. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then neither will we be raised, and we will be without hope.

Many desperate people flocked to hear Jesus. They sought hopeful and encouraging words and Jesus delivered. The Beatitudes of Luke’s Jesus seem to be aimed at both of Jeremiah’s types. 

He first addresses the poor, hungry, heartbroken and persecuted, and reassures them that their condition does not define them and that it is not permanent. In fact, they should even rejoice in the opposition and persecution they face — they are in good company, for the prophets were treated in the same way. 

Since they placed their trust in God and have drawn strength from Him, they will not be disappointed. The day will come when they will be truly blessed and will no longer suffer. The kingdom of God will be theirs. 

But for the other group, there will be a different outcome. They had relied on external things and drawn consolation from them — wealth, plenty and reputation — but had neglected the things of God. They, too, will have a change in circumstances, but it will not be a happy one, for they will lose all that they thought was theirs by right. 

Our lives can change in an instant — the world does not owe us anything. Nothing is permanent or immortal except God. The path to perseverance, inner peace and courage lies within, where God has promised to meet us.

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