Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
All three of today’s readings challenge some of our most taken-for-granted beliefs and values. Prophet Jeremiah (1st reading) challenges our contemporary mania with human potential, self-actualization and the urge to be all you can be, which gives us the assurance that we can have it all. He writes: Cursed is the man who puts his trust in human beings... whose heart turns away from the Lord. Humanistic psychology and education find these words offensive. In fact, prophet Jeremiah has never been easy to deal with for us present-day men. He seems so intense and one-dimensional. Yet, he has hit on an abiding fact of the human condition: that is, that we are finite and temporal, and that our hearts are most restless. The things and relationships in this world do not offer lasting security or peace. Only the Lord is faithful and constant. Only he can be trusted in an unending manner: Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord... He is like a tree planted beside the water... In the year of drought it... still bears fruit.
St. Paul (2nd reading), for his part, challenges our modern-life realism or existential heroism, according to which daily life is all there is; at the end of our life, the earth simply waits to receive us; there is no other dimension to human existence. St. Paul challenges such realism with the message of resurrection. The victory of Jesus over death is our victory. We too have the hope of glory. Without such a hope, there is only despair and hopelessness. If our hope is our money, popularity, intelligence, reputation and worldly standing, then we are the most unfortunate of men. Our hope is the One who extended his arms on the Cross out of love and who rose from the dead, so that we may experience a joy and happiness beyond telling.
Finally, St. Luke’s Gospel draws a sharp contrast between the values of this world and those of the Kingdom. Today’s text is the introductory portion of the Sermon on the Plain, the counter part to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mountain. It contains four beatitudes and four woes, that turn human expectations upside down. The rich, the satisfied and the successful are the ones to be pitied, because they do not recognize their need for God’s saving power; on the contrary, the poor, the hungry and the sorrowful are the truly blessed. In the sermon, the blessed, extol the fortunate condition of persons who are favored with the blessings of God; the woes, addressed as they are to the disciples of Jesus, show God’s profound displeasure with those so blinded by their present fortunate situation, that they do not recognize and appreciate the real values of God’s kingdom. In all the blessings and woes, the present condition of the persons addressed to will be reversed in the future.
The first three beatitudes reflect the joy of the early ministry of Jesus. By announcing the enviable lot of the poor, the hungry, and the sorrowful, Jesus proclaims that the messianic kingdom has arrived in his very person. These people are enviable because Jesus claims for himself the Davidic prerogative of providing for them. The fourth beatitude, on the contrary, reflects the hostility of Jesus’ enemies towards the end of the ministry. Thus, the lot of those followers who share in the prophetic fate of Jesus is now declared enviable.
The four woes change the meaning of the beatitudes. The lot of the poor, the hungry, and the sorrowful is enviable because their condition will be reversed in the afterlife. At the same time, the woes become an opportunity for the wealthy and powerful to meet the needs of the poor and the weak; they are basically a call to human involvement, an invitation to the wealthy and the sated to reverse the condition of the poor, the hungry, and the sorrowful. The main theme of today’s Gospel may not be sociological, but it is unquestionably sound. Those who selfishly ignore their neighbor end up like the barren bush in today’s first reading.