On this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the reoccurring adjectives in our first reading are “blessed” and its opposite: “cursed.” (cf. Jeremiah 17:5-8)
The Bible teaches us that, ultimately, all blessings come from God. He alone can bless because to be blessed means to be the recipient of a share in his very life. The first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah uses the image of a tree that stretches its roots to the waters of a generous stream to illustrate how God’s Life reaches and transforms the whole being of a person blessed by him.
It seems a clear-cut case, then; something with which all sensible people should agree: if blessedness is sharing in God’s gift of his Life, who wouldn’t want to be blessed? Yet, to stay with the same analogy from our prophet, we see plenty of barren bushes in the desert, scrawny, dwarfed trees in lava wastes that know no change of season.
I am referring, of course, to those scores of people who are routinely and repeatedly fooled by lifeless idols that are purported to offer them a superior type of blessedness. They are people who seek their strength in the flesh. For the Bible the term “flesh” refers to what is strictly human, unaided by God’s grace. The cases are too many to count. For example: “perfect marriages” seemingly rich in fairytale material, turned sour; gifted athletes, movie superstars headed for tragic ends; heirs to large fortunes becoming penniless, inflated egos leading people to insane actions, and the list goes on.
The word “madness” is often used to explain the abrupt turn of events and/or tragedies covered by newscasts and tabloids. However, from our Christian perspective, in light of our readings (Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26) the word “curse” or “woe” seem more suited than the term “madness”.
Now, since in today’s gospel passage Jesus addresses us directly, we should ask ourselves this question: “Are we making the right choices, so as to attain blessings from God or are we stretching our roots in a lava waste?”
The older I get, the less time I spend watching television. The decrease in interest happened gradually. A great number of messages, both subtle and overt, on television, are instilling in superficial people the idea that they can find blessedness even if they are struggling to survive in a barren desert. I am referring to an ever-expanding “desert” out there. It is the desert of lack of Christian values, lack of decency, lack of common sense, lack of prudence, lack of self-discipline, also of unwillingness to make sacrifices, to wait patiently, to endure, to try to understand and to forgive. However, if the tabloids displayed by checkout counters are an indication of what is really important to many people; if those cover stories reveal what interests them, then, let me tell you: we believers are not immune to the lure of false sources of blessedness.
In honesty, we should admit that there are times when we dream of having what the rich and famous have in abundance. We might even mimic their lifestyle, if only just for a short time. Even as we claim to belong to Christ Jesus, we should realize that our heart and mind can go either way: towards being blessed by receiving a generous share of God’s life or towards being cursed for trusting in human flesh; for living as if Christ had not risen from the dead.
As Luke reports to us, pointedly, Jesus came down from the mountain to a large plateau because his message of divine blessedness had to reach the largest audience possible. Nowadays the same is true, and we ought to take very seriously Jesus’ address to us, more seriously than those who heard him for the first time back then, because now he is the RISEN LORD.
As St. Paul points out so forcefully, the Resurrection of Christ is the proof of the validity of his promised blessedness offered to us individually and collectively.
We could be poor; we could be hungry; we could be weeping; we could be persecuted and we would still be living the pious delusion of a divine reversal that will never materialize if Christ had not risen from the dead.
Picture our days without Resurrection: no share in the Life of God through the Sacraments, no forgiveness of sins, no Eucharist (the Bread of Life), no mention of the Resurrection at funeral Masses, no hope of Life beyond this earthly life. Nothing in our Catholic faith would make sense.
But, if he is risen, as we believe he is, and as countless people have believed before us, and have preached it at the forfeiture of their physical lives, then, we have the guarantee that we will inherit the Kingdom; that we will be satisfied; that we will laugh; that we have a great reward waiting for us in heaven.
In other words, if we await with unwavering hope God’s blessedness to come upon us, we can start our rejoicing, our leaping for joy now because Jesus Christ, our Lord, has already conquered and vanquished all that has caused us and still causes us pain and fright.
However, if we are rich, well fed, laughing, and spoken-well- of now because we place our hope in the hollow promises of this world’s idols, we might as well start our wailing at this very moment because we would have been deceived in the fundamental, most basic of life’s choices.
And lest some of us might think that they can straddle the issue and be kind of part-time seekers of God’s blessedness (mostly on weekends) and part-time seekers of worldly consolations (the rest of the week) let me point out, to myself first and, then, to all of you, that nowhere in the Gospel do we find this third choice.
From start to finish, the Gospel is always and exclusively dividing people into two camps: the blessed by God, with Jesus and his divine Life and the cursed with the world, its false idols and human flesh unaided by God’s grace.
There are only two choices, and one of the two is the wrong one.
Here is, then, a wonderful and Life-filled way of paying up the debt of love that we owe each other (cf. Romans 13:8): we should look out for each other; encourage each other, remind each other, admonish each other and pray for each other so that we may all choose always the genuine blessedness that God alone can provide.