Sunday Scripture Readings

Sixth Sunday in ordinary time, February 15 Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26 OUR GOOD NEWS: What is our reward now for faithfully following Jesus? In today’s Gospel, Jesus had descended from an unnamed "mountain," a privileged place for prayer, where He had just chosen the 12 Apostles. He paused on a "level stretch" suitable for meeting with "a large crowd of people." There, in the presence of representatives from Judaism and from the Gentile world ("Tyre and Sidon") who eagerly listened to him, Jesus turned to His disciples. These were destined to become the Galilean witnesses of His preaching, teaching and healing. In instructing His followers, Jesus also was challenging the whole audience — and us — by proclaiming the paradox of life in God’s Kingdom, now being constituted in His Church. Here, ordinary human values were turned completely upside down. Luke’s Beatitudes (here proclaimed) differ significantly from the more familiar Matthew’s. These are addressed directly to His disciples — not "blessed are the poor" but "blessed are you poor." His expressions are realistic-concrete rather than spiritualized: actual poverty, not Matthew’s "poor in spirit"; real hunger rather than "hungering for righteousness." Poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, ostracism — such was the normal condition of Jesus’ disciples in Luke’s Gospel. Whom the secular world envies, Jesus condemns. Those judged unfortunate and failures He pronounced uniquely privileged! A frequently used translation omits the time reference for the second and third Beatitudes: "blessed are you who go hungry now"; "blessed are you who weep now." Moreover, "blest" is better rendered "blessed." Poverty and the others are certainly not blessings from God. Rather, the Lucan Jesus pronounced blessed — enjoying a happy or fortunate condition — those living the life of authentic discipleship now will enjoy fullness of blessing after death. Such "losers" in this world will experience much more than pity and contempt. They — we also — can expect to share our Master’s fate of "hate," including "ostracism" — excommunication from synagogues and from fellowship with the "God-fearing." These latter will judge Christians as godless and impious, thus deserving "insult." But instead of causing depression and despair, such rejection is an authenticating sign of faithful Christian witness and therefore occasion to "rejoice and leap for joy" (in festive dancing). Theirs is the privilege of standing in a long line of true prophets, distinguished from contemporary "false prophets" because they encounter virulent hostility rather than recognition and respect. The four "woes" pronounce imminent and dreadful doom — the opposite of the Beatitudes — upon the "rich, well-fed, carefree and well-spoken of," persons included among those listening to Jesus as well as ourselves. Jesus’ challenging "you!" of direct address emphasizes the impossibility of fence-straddling. Now is the time for decision and commitment! This Gospel is painful for us to hear and calls us to radical reordering of our attitudes. Those who are saved, the predestined, Jesus insisted, live lives of radical dependence on God and on God alone. Their goodness can be expected to be met with misunderstanding, hatred and persecution. Nonetheless, we must never lose an exuberant joy and peace, however paradoxical this sounds.

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