SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
Psalms 1:1-4, 6
1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17, 20-26
What truly makes you happy? Think, for a moment, of the variety of answers such a question might prompt – my dog makes me happy, my car makes me happy, good wine makes me happy, my children make me happy! The list could go on and on, with no discernibly perfect or correct answer, after all, in matters of taste there is no dispute (“de gustibus non disputandum est”).
If the truth be told, there is very little change on our approaches to happiness from the time of Jesus up to our present time. There is a heavy burden on happiness in the realm of material goods, i.e., the more material goods you have, the more blessed you are. Most people are not so shallow as to admit to a direct connection between material goods and divine blessing, but most, if pressed, cannot help but tally up the cars, boats, and jewelry when assessing how blessed a person truly is.
It is to just such a people that the timeless beatitudes in Luke’s gospel were addressed. At the time of Jesus, a person’s importance was inexorably tied to how much wealth that person possessed (remember the story the Rich Man and Lazarus). Jesus clearly saw such a connection as problematic. If we take some literary license and substitute ‘worldly goods’ for “human beings,” the thrust of Jeremiah’s strong words become obvious: “Cursed is the one who trusts in ‘worldly goods,’ who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the dessert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” Reliance on the things of this world will not advance our spiritual life, and while there are many good things which can rightly be considered “blessings,” they are never a sign that God loves the possessor of those “worldly blessings” more than the person who possesses none of those earthly blessings.
For Luke, the Beatitudes, which are preached on a “stretch of level ground” (a plain, not a mountain as in Matthew), are meant to turn the thinking of people upside down. Schooled as Jesus was on the Jewish Canon of Scripture, people were not to put their trust in the fickle and fallible people of this world, nor were they to trust in the passing things of this world. They were meant to place their utmost trust in the Lord. As the Psalmist says so beautifully, “blessed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked, nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on [God’s] law day and night.” The psalmist goes on to say that the “Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.”
It surely must have been stunning, and disconcerting, to hear Jesus say “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” The poor were meant to be pitied! The poor were meant to be avoided or stepped over! Jesus turns the world of the ordinary Jew around. Being poor secures the kingdom, being hungry makes you feel satisfied, weeping will turn into laughter, and when you are hated, and looked down upon, and insulted, you can take your place at the side of the prophets, for that is the dignified place where you belong!
It is through preaching like this that Jesus begins to show the people of His day who He really is, and who the God that they have worshipped for centuries really is. If God has gotten encumbered with the false teaching of Jesus’ day, Jesus was sent that the people might repent and believe in a real God who has less to do with the things of this world, and more to do with a world that is unseen. The God whose entrance into this world we celebrated at Christmas, was meant to show us through Jesus’ preaching and teaching what God truly looks like. May we be like the “tree planted near running water,” and bear the kind of fruit that only God can provide, the fruits of the Spirit. In doing that we will discover our true worth, and we will prosper all the days off our life.