Sunday Sermon for February 13, 2022, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Jer 17:5-8; 1 Cor 15:12, 16-20; Lk 6:17, 20-26
In the first reading and the Gospel, we have a juxtaposition of two groups of people that might surprise us. We all know that what can be said of the spiritual life is usually just the opposite of what can be said about things on the natural level, but since we live in the world and are so accustomed to looking at things through the lens of our natural perspective, it is easy to forget the spiritual and even be surprised by it when it confronts us.
God says through Jeremiah that those who trust in human beings are cursed. This sounds pretty harsh since we all have to trust various individuals. Spouses must trust one another, bosses need to trust their employees and vice versa, children need to trust their parents, and so on. God is certainly not condemning such acts of trust. What is being condemned is the failure to trust in God while putting our trust in people. The worst, although most common, situation is that we trust ourselves but have difficulty trusting God.
The Lord says those who trust in human beings are cursed, like a barren bush in the desert, in a lava waste, in a salt and empty earth. Jesus speaks of this same concept in the Gospel, but in a very different way. He speaks of those who are rich, those who are filled, those who laugh, and those who are spoken well of. Unlike our natural level way of thinking, that is, thinking these are the people who have been blessed by God, Jesus pronounces a woe on them. Those He proclaims to be blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated and insulted.
If someone is rich, well-fed, happy, and popular, he certainly does not appear to be someone who is like a barren bush in a desert. In fact, it seems to be just the opposite. This is where we must look at things from the perspective of eternity. St. Paul calls this to mind for us in the second reading when he speaks of the resurrection. He says that if our hope in Christ is limited to this life, then we are the most pitiable of people. So, we need to properly assess the blessedness of a person according to the perspective of the next life where our hope finds its fulfillment.
Only in this way can we understand how a person who seems so blessed and favored by God in this life will be like a lonely, barren bush in a wasteland. In hell, the souls will all be separated, one from another. Each person in hell will be looking only at themselves (what a horrible thought)! They will loathe themselves, they will hate everyone else in hell, and they will be hated by everyone else who is there. Truly, each soul will be barren because there is no life, no fruit, no love. Each soul will be isolated like a dead bush in a lava waste.
Those for whom the present life is more difficult because of poverty, hunger, grief, or rejection will be able to look forward to something that is not only beautiful, but fulfilling. In Heaven they will be loved and accepted by everyone, they will fill their souls with the Lord Himself (Truth and Love). This will be the result of trusting in God. No human person can get us to Heaven, but we can keep ourselves out of Heaven. Only God, who has made promises to those who love Him, has the power to raise the dead and bring those who trusted in His promises to the fullness of life.
Another aspect of this must be understood. Suffering itself does not bring us to Heaven, nor does a more comfortable life, of itself, keep us from Heaven. If we trust in the Lord and live according to His ways, we will be tested. God’s trials will be unique and perfectly suited to each person. In the midst of trials and difficulties, it is very easy to turn from God especially when trusting in Him does not seem to work. But, if, in the midst of our troubles, we can remain faithful to the Lord, trust Him, and love Him, then we will be greatly blessed.
What appear to be blessings and curses in this life may be just the opposite in the next. This is why the Archangel Gabriel, speaking of the resurrection, told the Prophet Daniel: some will be an everlasting horror and disgrace; others will shine like the stars in the firmament. Every person will rise from the dead and every person will live forever. Held out before us is a blessing and a curse, life and death. Choose the blessing, choose eternal life!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.