Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the overall message of our readings today is one of trust and hope. In our first reading taken from the prophet Jeremiah we heard:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.
That may sound somewhat strange, as if the same thing were being said twice; there is, however, a difference of emphasis between the two phrases. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” stresses the fact that here and now -- in whatever circumstances such a person finds himself and whatever he is trying to do -- such a one, trusting in the Lord at all times, knows that it is the Lord who enables him to respond and face up to the changing situations, difficulties, and trials of daily life; whereas the second phrase ‘and whose hope is the Lord’ is totally centred on the future, centred on the very Person of the Risen Lord Jesus, now glorified in the human flesh He shares with us, and Who finally will come again to call all His faithful disciples to share with Him in the glory of His Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven.
The second reading, taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, being centred on the heavenly Jesus is obviously to be related to that second phrase ‘Blessed is the man whose hope is the Lord’, for St. Paul tells his converts:
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
The Church’s proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead, Paul is saying, should be your sure and steadfast hope for your own future state beyond the grave; because Jesus has already taken our human flesh with Him to heaven, the only question will be about the nature of our personal relationship with Jesus; and for that we now turn to the Gospel reading, where Jesus develops that beatitude of ’trust in the Lord’ proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah.
Jesus, raising His eyes toward His disciples, 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.”
Blessed – not that inept word happy -- are those whose trust in the Lord is so great that here and now, in this demanding, deceptive, and increasingly antagonistic world, their minds are in no way centred on personal success or popularity in their dealings with the world, for they are well aware that their true peace and joy, their true fulfilment, is only to be found with God and their trying to doing His will in Jesus. To that end, they are content to have less and, if necessary, to suffer more than others in the course of their daily lives; indeed, some there are whose commitment to the Lord is such that they are able to bear contradiction and opposition without ever regarding themselves as misguided or lonely. Blessed, says Jesus, are such whose trust is, indeed, in the Lord their God.
I think that, even today, many can still understand and appreciate the meaning of Our Lord’s words and the beauty of the character they portray. It would indeed be a privilege to know someone like that; and how still more wonderful would it not be for us ourselves to be personally blessed to such a degree that it could be truly said of us, that our trust was wholly in the Lord.
However, leaving aside such personal thoughts and aspirations, those words of Jesus I have just quoted would have been an excellent place for Him to end His short discourse and thus leave a pleasing impression on the minds of His hearers. But Jesus did not stop there, He went on to add:
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 that way.
Why did Jesus go on to say those words? Because, dear People of God, Jesus came to bear witness to the truth and we present-day Christians in a up-to-date and increasingly pagan society are afraid to accept and profess them as God’s truth. There were very many Jews in Jesus’ days who pretended to be authentic, obedient, Jews for what they could get out of such pretence: the admiration of others, money, authority, and social position. And why does Jesus, through His Church today, continue to say such words to many who call themselves, or are regarded as, Catholics and Christians whereas, in fact, they are insipid or even treacherous witnesses to Jesus before the world? Because Jesus’ words were and are for all time and they are most urgently needed today. Dear fellow Catholics, if at times the immediate words of our pagan legislators and leaders of society seem to bear witness to Jesus’ own words or intentions their overall actions and their most intimate intentions are far from love of and/or obedience to Jesus. And what is more, there are Catholics and Christians of greater and lesser significance who also cannot comfortably hear, and most certainly cannot proclaim, such words of Jesus as we have just heard – and there are many other like words disregarded for public reading – lest such proclamation provoke hostility towards themselves or the Church! It could even result in someone saying to them personally: “What’s wrong with being rich?” or “What’s wrong with having plenty; what’s wrong with enjoying a good laugh and liking to hear praise?” Before such confrontation far too many Christians today become apologetic; they want to slip away quickly before their adversaries go on to add in yet more strident tones: “The trouble with you Christians and Church-goers is that you are spoil sports; most human feelings and pleasures are sins according to you.” And if, at this late juncture, a few of the more prominent and committed Catholics might, perhaps, still be standing apparently firm in the face of such hot, self-righteous, indignation from worldly people, they will almost certainly feel it necessary -- more prudent -- to explain Jesus’ words in such a way that their cutting, offending, edge is blunted and softened so that they no longer trouble, disturb, and certainly cannot infuriate, the sensitive ears of those who have left behind former religious and/or pious Christian attitudes for more modern, politically-correct and popularly-acceptable thought patterns.
Why, People of God, did Jesus not behave in such a way? Why did Jesus choose to use provocatively hard words, as in today’s particular occasion of Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’, without giving any explanation?
It was most certainly not because He didn’t love His hearers divinely; it was not because, as a man, He was irritated and fed-up with people, or that He just couldn’t be bothered to explain His thought. On the contrary, His words on this occasion were carefully chosen with the divine intent of spurring His hearers to ponder in their minds and search their hearts in order to find for themselves some understanding. In other words, His failure to explain further was motivated by true love, divine love for the salvation of His listeners. Modern pseudo-Christian attempted explanations and justifications, on the other hand, being motivated by human sentimentality at the best, or more frequently by self-love, that is, by fear of giving offence, are so weak and insipid to non-believers that they promise themselves to have done with such people and with any further thoughts about the Faith itself.
Once again, therefore, we come back to the burning question of why it is that Jesus so frequently and consistently differs from us and our modern sensitivities?
The reason for Jesus’ difference, the reason why the authors of the Sacred Scriptures, the old Prophets, and the New Testament writers Peter and Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are at times so different from us in their attitudes and words, is because too many modern Catholics are, in fact, like the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing in today’s second reading: the Lord was not those Corinthians’ hope for the future, and too many of today’s believers, likewise, do not put their trust fully in the Lord for our present and future well-being. Too many, high and low, try ever so hard to please and placate, to be politically correct and socially acceptable even though we have clearly heard the Prophet saying in the name of God:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings and seeks his strength in flesh.
Because we, Catholics and Christians as a whole, do not fully trust the Lord, because we – in the sight and hearing of men -- try so desperately to secure our own personal acceptability, therefore many laboriously thought-out and much publicised projects and programmes come to nothing, and have to be returned to the planning board again and again to find out what went wrong the first time, why people did not respond. And then we hear of yet another approach, another new scheme, that will, it is fancied, assuredly bear the fruit we like to desire, and bring the worldly success we so deeply crave.
People of God, it is only those whose hope is THE LORD, who calmly trust in His loving Providence and rejoice in His Personal presence in all life’s circumstances and before all people, who can speak God’s truth when necessary, as did Jesus, without thoughts of self-interest or politics of popularity and power intruding themselves so as to influence, mould, and divert, the Spirit’s lead. So often words like ‘prudence’ and ‘wisdom’ are desecrated by being twisted so as to protect and disguise their user’s secret fears and less-than-honourable aspirations: “It wouldn’t be prudent to say that just now”, “we must be wise in our choice of words, and weigh up carefully the possible effects of speaking out in such a way”; and thus we find ourselves behaving just as did the Pharisees when Jesus asked them about John the Baptist:
The baptism of John, where was it from: From heaven or from men? And they reasoned among themselves, saying: "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' "But if we say: 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." So, they answered Jesus and said: "We do not know." And He said to them: "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:25-27)
In such a way -- by countless human caveats and cautions -- the influence of God’s Holy Spirit of fire and truth is, in modern western society, impeded and confined, blunted and obscured, before finally being rejected and denied.
Jesus proclaimed His Good News under the inspiration and in the power of His Spirit. The Holy Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, all the Doctors and Saints -- holy men and women -- who have guided and illuminated Mother Church throughout the ages, have, each in their own degree, done likewise: they have spoken, they have acted, in obedience to and under the impulse of, the Spirit of holiness and fire Whom the Lord has bequeathed to His Church. And we Catholic Christians of today, as a whole and individually, must learn the courage to speak and act in like manner, lest our tainted presentation of God’s Truth, of Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, of the ‘faith of our fathers’ and of Mother Church’s saints and martyrs, will continue to fail today’s sinful and secular society.
Do not think I am advocating ‘Dutch courage’, or the ‘Gung-Ho’ attitude and tactics of religious fanatics: far from it, I am speaking of that quiet courage and firm conviction which comes from God and is given only to those who:
Trust in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.