SERMON FOR FEBRUARY 17, 2018
Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Reading I: Jeremiah 17:5-8
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Trust in the Lord
In the first reading for this Sunday, Jeremiah says, “Cursed be he who trusts in human beings.” It is impossible to create an ideal society if that society does not have God as its foundation, its heart and its end. St. Augustine’s ideal society was the City of God. St. Thomas More’s ideal society, Utopia, was a renaissance City of God.
Jeremiah was the one true prophet in Jerusalem that lived through the events resulting in the Babylonian Captivity. The king wanted to compromise the power of the Babylonians through military treaties. Jeremiah was told by God to proclaim that man could not solve his own problems. Man needed to trust in God. That is a message we still need to hear. Jeremiah counseled the King that he and all the people should renew their commitment to Yahweh and put their faith in him to deliver them from the Babylonians. That was the way of the faithful Hebrews. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and all other successful military leaders trusted in God to fight the battle against evil for them. But King Zedekiah, the King Jeremiah spoke to, put his trust in himself and in foreign alliances. This was an outright rejection of God. More than that, these alliances meant that the people of Judah would have to recognize the gods of their pagan allies and even embrace practices of idolatry. “Cursed is he who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” In 588 BC Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the king was blinded and led into slavery with most of his subjects just as Jeremiah had prophesied.
There are many very good people in our world who are determined to correct the pains of humanity. This is wonderful to the extent that it is a determination to extend God’s love to all poor, sick and persecuted of the world. However, there are well meaning but mistaken people in the world who think that they can make the world a better place by trusting completely in man’s own capabilities. This does not work.
Think about the last century. The twentieth century began with the most terrible war mankind had ever endured. Millions were killed in the battlefields. They called it the Great War. We call it World War I. In 1919, a hundred years ago, the victorious nations gathered in Versailles to formulate a treaty which, they said, would guarantee that the Great War would be the war to end all wars. At the time the treaty was signed, the Pope, Pope Benedict XV, said that the treaty and the peace would not work. There was no mention anywhere in the treaty about trusting in God. No mention of eternal, spiritual values. The treaty trusted completely in mankind’s capability to restore peace to the world. The Pope, as we all know, was correct. Within twenty years the world was engaged in even a worse war, World War II.
Ultimate reliance upon human capabilities is a sham. It didn’t work for the people of Jeremiah’s day. It didn’t work after World War I. It won’t work today. The one lesson we need to learn from history is that our only true hope must be in God. We cannot even approach the creation of the perfect society ourselves. “Creation without the Creator fades into nothingness,” said Vatican II, in the document The Church in the Modern World. The perfect society must be united to and a reflection of the Perfect One.
We cannot relate to a concept, though. We can only relate to a person. That is why God sent His Son to us. We relate to Jesus as individuals and as a people. We experience His Presence within us and among us. We love Him. We live for Him. We join Him in the construction of the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the poor, St. Luke’s account of the beatitudes states in today’s gospel. Luke is concrete. He is not talking about attitudes like Matthew was. He doesn’t quote the Lord as saying Blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke quotes the Lord as saying, simply, “Blessed are the poor.”
To St. Luke the poor are blessed became they have no choice but to trust in God. St. Luke addressed his gospel to the downtrodden, the lowly. He sees a tremendous virtue that the poor have: Because they recognize that what they have comes from God, they are generous with others believing that God will provide for them if they give the little they have to those more needy then themselves. Consider your generosity to the poor. These are times when everyone has serious needs, yet you sacrifice from the little you have to provide for those who have even less. Blessed are you poor.
St. Luke also quotes Jesus as saying, “Woe to the rich.” Jesus is not concerned with the amount of money a person has. He’s concerned with the false sense of security that money often gives people. Many people are tempted to trust in their possessions instead of trust in God. The Scrooges of the world have no joy, no hope and no future. Jesus told a parable about a man who had such a great harvest he just built a bigger barn instead of distribute his surplus to the poor. The man died that night. His wealth did him no good. If our consolation is our material possessions, we have nothing to take with us when we attempt to enter the world of the spiritual. More than this, if we trust in our stuff, we have little room for God in our lives. We act as though we do not need him. Just like the people acted in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day and in Europe at the end of World War I.
St. Paul sums up this message in today’s second reading: “If our hope is limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of people.” 1 Corinthians 15:19.
Here is a mystery of our faith: Jesus died to reunite mankind to God for all eternity. Jesus did not live and die for the physical. He lived and died for the spiritual. We have been created to provide our brothers and sisters in this world with the experience of the presence of the eternal love of God, the presence of Jesus Christ.
We live in an age of expanding technological marvels. We can hit a few keys on our computer and read documents in libraries from around the world. We can buy tickets to events across the country choosing the seats we want in the theater from our iphones. We ask Alexa, or Siri, or Google, and get an immediate answer. The next thousand years will be a time beyond the imagining of the science fiction writers of the past. It will also be an empty age. It will be empty unless we are determined to put the spiritual in the center of our lives. Jesus Christ is our only true hope and our only lasting refuge. We treasure our relationship with the Lord. Rich or poor in material possessions, Jesus Christ is the reason for our being. We can harness the advancements in technology to serve the Lord in this Life. We can be secure in our Hope to be with Jesus forever in the next life. “Rejoice and be glad; your reward will be great in heaven.”