2-17-2019 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Feb 19, 2019
6th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
I’m going to preach on our first reading today from the Prophet Jeremiah—despite the fact that our Gospel today is very important: Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. But I’m trying to stretch my appreciation of Scripture, and also not ignore our OT readings—which can seem so strange and distant from our life and culture. But today’s passage from Jeremiah is anything but strange and distant—and it beautifully describes the dilemmas we all face.
A little context for this short reading. The Prophet Jeremiah is chastising the Israelites, in very strong language, for turning away from God and worshipping idols. One could say that the principal sin in the OT was idol worship—turning something less than God into a god.
Idol worship awakens the wrath of God—and Jeremiah is God’s spokesman. The prophet feels the anger of God, and his language is strong. In fact, such language forms our impression of the Prophet Jeremiah, who complained to God about always giving him "bad news." The image we have of Jeremiah is a bit dour (cf. his image in the Sistine Chapel)—he didn’t get thrown into a dry cistern for nothing!
A word, however, needs to be said about the "anger" of God, as if God has mood swings or was fickle or just unpredictable. The "anger" of God was a symbol of God’s desire to set things right, for justice, for peace, for the well-being of all people. It is righteous anger that aims to destroy evil—and to protect Israel, whom God loves. Sometimes God is called a "jealous God"—the God of the First Commandment, who will not tolerate "strange gods before him."
And so, Jeremiah says, channeling this righteous God: "Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord." Our temptation today is to put our "trust"—our fundamental foundation—into something other than God—like Israel, to worship idols.
If you really want to know who a person is, ask one question: what do you worship? We all place our faith, our trust, our hope in something. What is it? Money, pleasure, work, art, success, fame, country, drugs, sports, exercise, food, etc.
When we worship something other than God, we are "like a barren bush in the desert . . . that stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth." No sustenance. No food. I couldn’t help but think of southeast Oregon, in patches of recent lava flows, dry, hard, black. A dry twig springing from it. Dead.
We are wired for God, and if we plug into anything less, we will be cursed.
And so, we look to the reverse! "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters, that stretches out its roots to the stream." Again, I think of southeastern Oregon. When you look across the dry landscape, and you see a patch of green, you know there is water. Life.
For the one whose bedrock is the Lord, there is "no fear of heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought, it shows no distress."
The Christian life does not preserve us from trials and disappointments and loss and fear. Rather, with our roots firmly planted in bedrock, we weather the storm: "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging." Be not afraid—not because we are spared difficulties and trauma, but because we have the strength to get through them.
Cursed is the one . . . blessed is the one. Which path will you take?