The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sr Margaret Shepherd
14 February 2019
Today’s readings from the prophet Jeremiah and Psalm 1 are both pieces of “wisdom writing” in the Hebrew Bible, expressing a philosophy that goodness will be rewarded and evil punished. Unlike Psalm 1, which begins with a description of the “wise, good person,” Jeremiah begins with the opposite by describing the fate of those who only put their trust in what is human and turn from God. Although this wisdom poem does not mention idols explicitly, the attitude of the “cursed heart” is said to be idolatrous. People with such a heart will die from lack of life-giving water. By contrast, those who trust in God will flourish “like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream.”
Psalm 1 is often described as The Two Ways, its tone being set by the initial, “Happy indeed is the one who follows not the counsel of the wicked.” It encourages faithfulness to the Torah, God’s teachings, God’s way for us. We are free to choose our way of life, but the poet is convinced that the way of goodness is an attractive way. For it is God’s way, the way God wants us to walk, the way which will bring us happiness and be a blessing for us.
In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read again of his attempt to keep these new Christians on the right path, the “way” of belief in Jesus as saviour. We read last week of Paul’s anxiety that they were wavering in their faith in the resurrection of Jesus and, linked with that, the resurrection of the dead. Their doubts probably concerned the notion of a bodily resurrection, thinking of it in very crude terms. Paul is trying here to drive this message home by saying that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ himself has not been raised and their faith is useless, as they can no longer depend on the belief that “Christ died for our sins.” And that means that all grounds of hope are destroyed. Paul insists on describing the slippery slope which he thinks they have started to go down and urges them to get back on the right path.
Our gospel today is Luke’s version of what we call the Beatitudes and, like the Jeremiah reading and Psalm 1, presents us with crucial options for our lives. Whereas Matthew’s version, known as the Sermon on the Mount, gives a standard for a community to strive towards, Luke’s version states the nature of such a new community. The disciples are addressed directly as the poor, the hungry, those who weep, the excluded: “How happy are you …” Although this wouldn’t have been literally true for everyone, all are invited to share in the attitude that characterizes these groups – their looking towards God for their future and their lack of satisfaction with the present. In the Hebrew Bible, the poor are seen as God’s special concern, blessed by God who can and will vindicate them.
Luke’s version of Jesus’ foundation sermon, then, challenges the community Jesus is bringing into being to be one which lives in such a way so as to be a sign to others of God’s kingdom. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, the call is for perfection: “You must … be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In Luke, Jesus calls rather for mercy because that is what for him lies at the heart of God. The sermon’s demands are radical, but if acted upon, will bring us blessing and happiness.
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