1st Reading – Jeremiah 17:5-8
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 is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
but stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
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.
Jeremiah began his prophetic office 116 years after Isaiah began his, and about 620 years before the birth of Jesus. Jeremiah lived through one of the most troubled periods of the ancient Near East as he witnessed the fall of a great empire (Assyria) and the rising of an even greater one (Babylon). In the midst of this turmoil, the kingdom of Judah, which was then in the hands of deplorable kings, came to its downfall by resisting this overwhelming force.
In today’s first reading, Jeremiah uses words similar to those of Psalm 1 (our responsorial psalm) to describe the misfortune that will befall those who trust in themselves, versus the prosperity of those who trust in God.
Thus says the LORD:
This is the familiar messenger formula that identifies the passage as a prophetic oracle.
Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
A contrast statement with both a blessing and a curse.
The Hebrew word translated as “one” is geber, a word with a connotation of “strong man.” From where does a strong man draw his strength?
He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.
The strong man who turns away from the Lord and relies on human strength is described with jarring images of barrenness and desolation. It is a permanent state of wretchedness; there is no change of season.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: 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.
In contrast, the strong man who finds his strength in the Lord is like a tree planted near water, the source of life.
Like the bush, the tree must endure the hardship of heat and drought — but because it is near water and has stretched its roots toward that water, it is not threatened. The one who trusts in the Lord is secure and productive.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
Brothers and sisters:
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead,
how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain;
you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Our reading from Corinthians is a continuation of last week’s reading in which Paul argued against the idea that there is no resurrection of the dead.
Brothers and sisters: if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
Paul begins by outlining a logical inconsistency. To doubt the resurrection of the dead is to doubt Christ’s resurrection.
“How grave an offense it is not to believe in the resurrection of the dead. If we do not rise again, Christ died in vain and did not rise again. For if He did not rise for us, He did not rise at all, because there is no reason why He should rise for Himself” (Saint Ambrose (378 AD), The Death of His Brother Satyrus 2,103).
and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.
In fact, doubting the resurrection is to say that the faith Christians have is in vain (i.e., empty, pointless). Instead of being redeemed, we would still be in our sins.
The consequences of this lapse of faith are grave: both forgiveness and salvation are an illusion, despite their strong convictions about both. Unless Christ is risen, their faith does not save.
Worse than having a worthless faith, they are still trapped in the bondage of sin.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
The argument goes as follows: If Christ did not rise, then he is still dead; if he is dead, then he has not conquered sin and death; if he has not conquered sin, then believers are unforgiven and still in their sins; if he has not conquered death, then those who have died in Christ have really perished.
Rejection of the resurrection undoes both Paul’s christology and his teaching on salvation.
“If Christ did not rise again, neither was He slain, and if He was not slain, our sins have not been taken away. If our sins have not been taken away, we are still in them, and our entire faith is meaningless” (Saint John Chrysostom (ca. 392 AD), Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 39,4)
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul insists that the hope believers have in Christ is not merely for this life. Rather, it is hope in a future life, a life when they will be able to fully enjoy the fruits of the resurrection.
The passage ends with a declaration of faith, using an image from harvesting. As certain as the firstfruits are a promise of the quality of the coming harvest, so surely does the resurrection of Christ guarantee the resurrection of believers. What God as done for Jesus, the firstfruit, God will do for those who put their faith in Jesus.
Those who are Jesus’ disciples on earth will be raised with him to eternal life.
Gospel – Luke 6:17, 20-26
Jesus came down with the twelve
and stood on a stretch of level ground
with a great crowd of his disciples
and a large number of the people
from all Judea and Jerusalem
and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.”
Today’s gospel reading is the opening verses of the Sermon on the Plain, which corresponds to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 5-7).
It is very likely that in the course of his public ministry, Jesus preached the same thing in different regions and towns of Israel, using different wording on different occasions.
Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.
Three groups of attendees are identified: the twelve apostles; a group of disciples (followers) of Jesus; and a large crowd of interested people who have come from as far south as Jerusalem and as far north as Tyre and Sidon in Syria.
Luke seems to be pointing out that Jesus had piqued the interest of people from far and wide.
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said:
With all these people hanging on his every word, Jesus addresses his disciples with both macarisms and woes (also called the Beatitudes and the curses).
This type of teaching is associated with the Wisdom tradition: certain behavior results in blessedness; misfortune is brought on by its opposite.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Jesus is not referring to socioeconomic status; he is not saying that it is a blessing to lack the necessities of life. If that were the case, he would not later be so insistent that his disciples give to the poor in order to relieve them of their miserable situation (Luke 18:22). Jesus would not encourage his disciples to relieve someone of a source of blessing.
Jesus is referring to spiritual poverty, a religious attitude of neediness and humility towards God. We see this more clearly in Matthew’s version of this beatitude, which refers to “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
The spiritually poor disciple is one who does not depend on his or her own wealth, but on God’s providence. It is an expression of faith in God and a sign that the heart is not satisfied with created things; instead, it wants to be filled with the love of God.
Notice also the present tense: “the kingdom of God is yours.” A disciple enters the kingdom of God and dwells there once he or she starts to “be poor,” to depend on God’s providence. Disciples own nothing because they know that they are stewards of God’s property and are required to see that God’s resources are used to relieve the poverty of those are poor and hungry.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
The reign of God will upend the standards of society.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
The followers of Jesus will be hated and marginalized and scorned, simply because they are his followers. When this happens they will be like the prophets, who, because of their call for repentance and renewal, were rejected by the ancestors.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Unlike Matthew, Luke provides woes (curses) to contrast each beatitude, balancing the message.
The first woe is a condemnation of avarice and attachment to the things of the world.
The “rich” are understood to be those who strive to accumulate possessions heedless of whether or not they are doing so lawfully (the Israelites had a covenant responsibility to address the needs of the poor). They seek their happiness in possessions as if they were their ultimate goal. Their lifestyle is so comfortable that they do not want to respond to a call to discipleship, for that might mean a less comfortable life than they have now. That is why Jesus says, “you have received your consolation.”
People who inherit wealth or acquire it through honest work can be spiritually poor if they are detached from their possessions and are led by that detachment to use them to help others, as God inspires them. We can find in Sacred Scripture a number of people to whom the beatitude of the poor can be applied, although they possessed considerable wealth: Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, and Job are all examples.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
The next woe condemns excessive care of the body; i.e. gluttony.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
A condemnation of empty-headed joy and general self-indulgence.
Jesus has overturned the standards of this age and established new standards, those of the reign of God.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
The last of the four woes condemns flattery and the disordered desire for human glory.
Disciples of Jesus should be wary when they are accepted and esteemed in this world. This could mean that, like the false prophets of old, they enjoy approval because they deliver a message that unfaithful or disengaged people want to hear, a message that contains no call to conversion. They seek to please others rather than to please God.
Connections and Themes
A transformed life. Paul teaches us that united to Christ through faith and in baptism, we are united in his death and resurrection. Without Christ we die to sin; with him, we rise to a new life. Once again the ambiguities of human life may cloud our understanding of this mystery. We may be inclined to live our lives as if nothing transformative has occurred; this would be tragic. Our lives would be empty, our faith would be in vain, and we would be people to be pitied.
On the other hand, there is a way in which we can live ourselves into a new way of understanding. This happens when actions performed in deep faith change the way we perceive the workings of God in our lives. If we live our lives as if we have really died to sin and have been raised to a new and transformed life, we may not only begin to believe we actually have died and been raised, but our lives will manifest the fact of this mystery. We cannot wait to see proof of our transformation before we change our actions. The proof is in the lives we live in faith. To deny that we have died and been raised is to deny the resurrection of Christ. Paul insists that they cannot be separated. The challenge is to live in and out of this faith.
Both Jeremiah and Jesus introduce us to such a way of living. It is a way of paradox, a way that moves us beyond the self-centered standards of the world. In the everyday give-and-take of living, the implications of faith work themselves out in blessing if we are faithful, in curse if we are not. The Wisdom form, which both men use, suggests that their teaching springs from the way life itself has been fashioned. In other words, the consequences of our behavior are not arbitrary; they flow directly from the behavior itself. However, dying with Christ and rising with him transport us into a new mode of being with consequences that are paradoxical. We are called to trust in God and the ways of God, which we cannot always see or understand, rather than in what is human, which we can grasp. Dying and rising turns the standards of living upside down.
A paradoxical life. In today’s readings the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted are really the ones who are blessed. The victims of our social and economic systems, those who have been ravaged by war or have been made vulnerable by life itself are the ones who, if they place their trust in God, will be blessed in the end. They may appear to be the outcasts of this world, but if they are filled with faith, they will inherit heaven. They are blessed because they trust not in themselves, but in the Lord, refusing to be discouraged by their own fragility, limitations, and needs.
The wealth of this world and its pleasures are not the blessings we might think they are: they can blind us to the real values of life and prevent us from dying to the world and living resurrected lives in Christ. It is neither poverty nor wealth that promises blessing or curse, but commitment to Christ despite the poverty or wealth — and therein lies the paradox. The life of the tree is subject to the water that nourishes it; the life of the Christian feeds on faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.