Daily Reflection
February 15th, 2004
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

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 and consequences.

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 and happiness?

 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. 78, 29-30

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