So as to help us be more available to the graces of the liturgy’s
readings, we might imagine Jesus walking down from a hill with his newly-chosen
Apostles. They meet a large crowd of disciples and interested folks. He hesitates
for a moment and then decides to say it like it is. He is now on the level
and speaks briefly from the depth of his heart about the depth of his call.
We can imagine also that upon hearing what he says, some turn
away shaking their heads in disbelief and murmuring to themselves, “This
cannot be the Promised One; his teachings sound strange.”
We are advancing along the road of Christian maturity. We have watched his
being announced as the Beloved. We have seen his calling of Peter. We have
seen his claiming publicly his mission. Today we hear his telling us who
want to follow him just what changes and reversals will be expected of us.
We pray to listen deeply to his words and our own responses. We must pray
with what would be the cost in being his disciples. Why would we turn away
and shake our heads; what would be “too much?” We also pray for patience
with our slow conversion to our being totally of his ways. We enjoy wealth,
power and a good reputation and we do not like being rejected. We pray not
to be deaf to his call.
The verses we hear from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah sound more like
something from the Book of Wisdom or Proverbs. They interrupt a foretelling
of punishment and exile for the sins of the people. Right in the middle of
that, are placed these reflections about what is worth putting trust in and
what is not.
Two images from nature are employed to focus the contrast. The “cursed” person
who trusts in ” flesh” or exclusively in other “human beings” and so not
in the Lord, are like a barren bush. Fruitlessly that bush is planted in
what can not nourish or sustain.
That person is contrasted with the one who does put trust in the Lord. That
person is a tree planted near a stream. That tree fears not the rejection
of weather and drought, but yields fruit in all seasons.
These verses remind the people of Israel that their foretold
punishment is a result of not trusting in the God of their creation. They
have become like the barren bush in a desert of fruitlessness. The prophet
is telling them that they are going to receive what they deserve.
We hear in the Gospel, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. We are more familiar
with these sayings from Matthew’s perspective in the section known as the
Sermon on the Mount. Luke presents four of them, plus four “woe-to-yous.”
So here in the Gospel, as in the First Reading, we have a contrast of attitudes
Luke pictures Jesus as speaking directly to his disciples and not primarily
to the crowds. He presents Jesus also as speaking of a “now” reality of their
attitude towards possessions of four kinds. The spirituality of Luke’s presentation
of Jesus is living free from the falsely-personal identity which comes from
wealth, self-satisfaction, relational possessiveness and personal adulation
or popularity. More simply, whom or what do you trust for life’s meaning
It is said that there are two groups of people in this world; those
who eat the frosting first and those who do not. In a sense, that is the
call of Jesus to those who wish to travel life’s road with him. With Luke’s
portrayal of Jesus, there is always a choice, always an invitation. The gestures,
the words are an offer to invest in the “then” or “later” instead of ingesting
and digesting in the “now.” As good as is the having and holding onto, now,
the trusting in what comes after is promised to be better.
In keeping with the spirit of the First Reading, we can say that the person
who takes the “now” train trusts that it really leads to blessed happiness.
That person trusts that only other persons, only material things, only personal
popularity is worth the living. Those who take the “later” train have an
attitude towards all other human beings, other materialities, personal esteem
as very good and gifts from God which lead to God. Those persons love the
gifts, reverence them, but do not make gods of them. By their attitude towards
themselves and all else, they are saying that the Giver is not yet done giving
and the best is yet to come, but later.
Jesus is not a hunch we play. Jesus is the Word of God calling each one of
us to decide how we will relate with life. There is no doubt that there is
something within us that wants it all and now and forever, or for at least
until we can find something better. That is common sense, but we are invited
to have an uncommon sense. We are to be unusual about how we answer our natural
self-centered drives. They are not bad in themselves, but they can lead us
to the barren desert of self-production. What we get is not a curse but what
we deserve, our hollow selves.
Poverty, of all sorts, is not directly a blessing. The attitude of knowing
where all things and persons come from and what are their meanings, is the
blessed attitude which Jesus offers those who desire to follow him more closely.
Take it or leave it, for later.
Well I have spent enough time writing this, denying myself all the attractions
of the “now.” It is now “later” and I will go and have a little of my reward.
Perhaps I will have some frosting.
“They ate and were filled; the Lord gave
them what they wanted- they were not deprived of their desire.” Ps.