Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 17:5-8 | 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20 | Luke 6:17, 20-26
Oh God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace to become a dwelling pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
A reading from the Old Testament, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, 17thchapter, fifth through the eighth verse: “Thus says the Lord, cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He’s like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season but stands in a lava waste of salt and empty earth. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the streams. It fears not the heat when it comes. Its leaves stay green. In the year of drought, it shows no distress but still bears fruit.” The Word of the Lord.
One of the most interesting things about this work that I share with you is that I’m telling the story, over and over again, through the eyes of three major witnesses, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and we follow, chronologically, in the readings as the story was unfolding. So we’ve come to the point now where we know that Jesus is the one who’s come. We know that his calling, his desire, his longing is to open the eyes of people that are blind to get them out of a place of imprisonment where they can’t truly experience their life, and he wants to free them from an image of the world or life that’s so burdensome. So he’s called disciples, and now he’s got a group of people together, and he wants to say something about his role, his work, his wisdom. So let’s see if we can understand it as fully as we can.
The first question I want to pose to you is what do you imagine this world is for. What’s it about? We are told in the second reading, by St. Paul, that it is clear that this world was never intended to be the thing that we are destined for. It is an anteroom. It is something that takes place in time. It is something that is short, and so how we imagine what this is about is absolutely crucial for our participation in it, for our engaging in what it’s for. And so we need to examine that very issue. What are we on this planet for? First thing we know, if we look at Paul, he says, “For goodness sakes, don’t think this is it. Don’t think this is what God has created you for. This is short, but it has a very, very crucial role in your existence.”
Now, from my background as a Catholic, I grew up thinking about the things that the church asked me to ponder, and one was that I was somehow infected by Adam and Eve, by this horrible thing called sin. And my task was not to do it, not to ever fall into sin, and if I could not sin, then I would please God, and then at the end of life here, a test of whether or not I would turn away from sin, if I passed, I would get eternal life. It would be a reward. It was so clear to me that that’s exactly what I was taught. Some of the shadow teaching in that that was really dangerous was that every time I sinned, I damaged my relationship with God by inflicting pain on Jesus. Where that came from I’m not sure, but it sure was effective in motivating me to stop sinning. But here’s the thing: what if perfection, what if not sinning is the furthest thing from God’s plan? Yet, if we look at the Old Testament, it seems to be that is the issue. You are given, by God, his favor, his promise to be with you, with you as a people, if you did everything that he told you to do. Well, that was the way it began, and I would love to think that we are born into this world, and we don’t come in as Adam and Eve, which we actually do. I’d like us to come in as the disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit. That’d be a great place to start. No, we all have to relive salvation history. We come in innocent, and something grows inside of us. That story from Genesis is so essential to understand our nature.
We come into the world, and what do we want? We don’t want everything to be just perfect for us, a beautiful garden, no disease, no sin, no problems. No, we’re made for something more. We want a task. We want something to do, and so in this beginning of consciousness, awareness of who we are, a lie appears. It comes in the form of somehow lower nature, animal nature, and it says, “What I really want to do is you tell me what I need to do. I will do it, and I will win your favor. I will achieve what I set out to do, and will do it on my own. I don’t need help.” Somehow we come into the world with that, and what God is saying is, “Well, that is a normal way humans think,” because we’re evolving from lower forms. But we have the potential to evolve to something more, higher consciousness. What do I mean by consciousness? It’s an awareness of the truth of what is without having any proof outside yourself, without having any way to prove it. You just know it’s right. It’s a knowing consciousness, and what you can see the human race growing in is it moves closer and closer to the fullness of revelation that comes in the life of Jesus. We begin to sense something, especially in the teaching of Jesus. The most important thing he said right away, off the top was, “Look, every time you sin, you are not separating yourself from me in a sense that I’m turning my back on you. No, it’s the opposite. I’m drawn to you. I’m like a doctor, and the only reaction I have to your faults is forgiveness. So don’t focus on faults.” No. Well then, we don’t have to do anything. We just sit around and go to heaven. No. We do have a task. What is it?
Well, Jeremiah talks about one part of it. We have to realize that we cannot do the thing we’re called to do here on our own. A man who trusts in himself, trusts in his own strength, trusts in his own mind to figure things out is really a sad, sad individual. They’re like a tree that has no water, no nourishment, no fruitfulness. Okay, so number one, we’re not on our own. Number two, we have to realize that this life here is not all there is. Okay, got that. That’s from Paul, but what is Jesus saying? He’s saying something that is dangerous, because I know of many people that have read this — I think I’ve heard homilies on it, and it goes something like this. I’ve seen it more in action when somebody is going through a tough time. Somebody in the crowd, if you’re all believers in the same religion, would say, “Oh, that person is going to have such a wonderful place in heaven. Their life is a disaster. They’ve lost everything. How blessed they are.” What it seems to be saying is that those who have a horrible life, those who are broken and empty and terrible things happen, that they’re the blessed ones, and the cursed ones are the things that we want. We want to be full. We want to be happy. We want to be loved. We want to experience joy. Well, those people are cursed. What? What? It doesn’t make any sense. It only does if you understand this one truth that is hidden in this story. The reason we’re here is not to be happy, to be perfect, to have everything flow in the way we want it to, to be free of sin, to be perfect. No, we’re here not for perfection but for something else much more exciting, much more challenging, and that is called awareness, consciousness. That’s what we’re here for, to grow in our understanding of what’s real, what’s true, what this life is for, who God is and who we are. And how are you going to find it? The danger is we would go through this life thinking, “All right, if I have basically an easy life — I have enough money. I have enough food. I have some friends. I have shelter. What else do I need? Nothing. There’s nothing else to do but sit back and, I don't know, pop a beer and watch a game. It’s all done.” That’s a curse, but God has intentionally set things up in our life where we will go through times of enormous hunger, knowing whatever it is we have, we want more, something more. Whenever we think that people are against us and it frightens us and we don’t know who we are, we’re not sure if we’re being who we should be, because it’s not being accepted, all those questions and problems are the gift of what? Going deeper, trying to figure out what’s really happening. What is happening in this world?
Some are called to do incredible work in this area, Jesus being one. The thing I find so fascinating about his death is not so much that sometimes the church will tell us, and I don’t know how to understand it, but the reason Jesus died on the cross was because God was so angry and upset by our imperfection, which he created, by the way, in us. He was so upset, when we would give into it, and angry, that he needed a sacrifice, and the only sacrifice he could think that would be worthy would be to take the quintessential perfect human being and sacrifice them. Make their life miserable and destroy them, and he’d be satisfied. Oh, thank God. Something wonderful has been sacrificed for this. It doesn’t make sense. So how does Jesus’ death make sense? Well, he was gifted. He had everything. God was in him. He knew God was in him, and he had a sense of that. He had wisdom beyond his ability as a human being. He grew slowly over 30 years into the wisdom of this. When it came time to realize what he had, he began his work, and the thing that was so spectacular about his work was it wasn’t just what he said, but it was his very presence, something — this divinity that was living inside of him, as he promises it’s inside of us, has the capacity to work through us without us having to be perfect or having to be the perfect one. But you say, “Well, no, Jesus was perfect.” Well, was he? Did he sin? No, I guess not, because he never lost faith or trust, desire to do the right thing, but he was human. He had failings. He had faults. When asked to do something that was very painful, he said, “No, no, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to die on the cross. I don’t want my ministry to end in a disaster where I look so like a failure, like a phony.” Why would Jesus be asked by God to give in to something that would be more in the category of that second half of those that are blessed, when life goes awful, when it’s terrible, when it’s a disaster, when you’re destroyed? Why would he say that is a blessing? It somehow has to do with the consciousness, which gives us the power to accept things that we can’t understand and know they’re true, and somehow, the way in which these things unfold, they reveal something to us that’s essential for all of us.
The pain of Jesus’ death was not the cross or the whipping or the scourging. The pain was he had to face the fact that his destiny, instead of ending up at the end of a long life being honored and loved and supported and seeing the world around him change, all the success he wanted, instead of that, he had to accept, as his part of this side of the world that God has created for us, he had to accept failure, not just a small failure but a disaster, that for those who are following him, he had to know, as a human being, the majority of them would write him off as another one of those nuts that was always claiming to be a Messiah. They’ll forget about the miracles and say they really didn’t happen, just like the leaders of the church said, “You can’t heal the blind man.” So they always consistently said it didn’t happen, and yet there was the person saying, “I can see,” the parents saying, “I can see.” They said it didn’t happen. The power of denial, refusal of this incredible, awesome promise of God living inside of human beings, accomplishing work so far beyond what they can do — that’s our destiny, but what would we do if that destiny made us the hero that we sometimes want to be, the great one, the perfect one, the one everybody loves? It’d be a disaster in a sense. We’d be so full of ourselves.
So maybe there’s a way in which God continues to put us in situations where we’re being tested, not in a sense to say, “If you can pass this test, I’ll love you.” No, tested in the sense that we test what we know, and if it isn’t fully yet what it should be, I’ll look for it. I will seek it. I’ll ask for it, seek it and find it. That’s the reason we’re here, to do that work of seeking and understanding and finding the truth. What a wonderful experience we have together doing this. We don’t do it alone, without God. We don’t do it alone, without the people around us. So we look at life, and we say, “Well, look, here’s a champion over here, somebody who really —” In that group of human beings who lived at that time, he was a shining light, and there was a bunch of people there in that group that were just awful, just terrible, mass murderers, people with no conscience. Well, if we’re all interconnected, what if it takes just a couple of champions to lift up all the rest? Maybe that’s the thing we need to be aware of? We’re saved not by our works, not by what we do, but by this gift of God’s promise. “I will take care of you. I will feed you. I will nurture you, and for what you lack, I will give to somebody else, and somebody else’s strength will give you wisdom and strength and lift you up.” So it’s not that everybody has to do the same thing. We’re all in a community of people. It’s like being on a team, and there’s two or three people that score all the points. But the rest of us are there working hard. Some of us sit on the bench our whole life. It doesn’t mean we’re not part of the team. It doesn’t mean that we’re not a champion, that we win. It’s amazing. What a tragedy it is that I was never taught, and you were perhaps not taught, the essence of why we’re here, not to strive for perfection but for truth.
Father, your grace is everything. It’s your insights. It’s your presence. It’s your power. It’s your love living within us, guiding us through a time of confusion, to a time of clarity, from doubt and lies to faith and truth. Bless our journey. Most especially, continue to guide us as you’ve promised. Make us open to this guidance and receptive, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.