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Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year C

Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1:1-2, 3-4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26 

Two Sundays ago, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the liturgy introduced us to the life, ministry and mission of Jeremiah. His dates were approximately 626-586 B.C. Like other prophets, he suffered through a long and difficult ministry, ending with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. Editors eventually assembled his oracles into the Book of Jeremiah. Like the authors/editors of our four gospels, they had to choose what to include and what to exclude. Sometimes they seem to have included material that only doubtfully originated with Jeremiah. Today’s first reading is such material. It is part of a group of sayings or oracles similar to material in the Book of Psalms. The first part is a curse beginning with, “A curse on the man who” does this and does that. “He is like” this and like that, and is described as a real Dumkopf. The second part is a beatitude, the very opposite of a curse. It begins with these words, “Blessed is the one who puts his trust in the Lord. He is like” this and like that, but all good stuff.

Psalm 1 of our Book of Psalms seems to have been the pattern for the composition of this first reading; but in that Psalm, the order is reversed. The blessing is first, then the curse. The similarities between Jeremiah’s psalm and Psalm 1 indicate that this type of contrasting saying was common in Israelite literature. The combining of blessings and curses as a form of ancient literature is found also in Deuteronomy 28. There the curses are among some of the worst imaginable, reminding us of the seven curses or woes of Matthew 13 against “the scribes and Pharisees.” Both Matthew and Luke have a series of Beatitudes (blessings). Those of Matthew are found at the opening of the Sermon on the Mountain. Those of Luke are found in a sermon of Jesus delivered not on a mountain, but “on a great level place.” Therefore it is called the Sermon on the Plain. The reason for selecting Jeremiah’s blessing/cursing psalm to accompany today’s gospel: Luke follows the same pattern. First, his four beatitudes, then his four corresponding curses.

Psalm 1, described above, is the Responsorial Psalm for today’s liturgy. A striking metaphor used by the psalmist is that of a tree planted close to running water, a metaphor used also in Jeremiah’s psalm. The tree metaphor in positive form is found also in Psalms 52:8 and 92:12-14. Outside the Psalms the same positive metaphor occurs in Job 29:18-19. The People’s Response for today’s Responsorial Psalm, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” The second reading is part of a series of five readings from chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. The whole chapter centers on Paul’s teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection.  In today’s selection he points out how foundational to Christianity is belief in the resurrection. “If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty. You are still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep have perished.” Paul does not leave us dangling. He adds positively, “But Christ really has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Meaning: Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own resurrection.

The gospel begins, “Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground.” The “great level place” gave this sermon the name, the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke’s arrangement of gospel material Jesus had just spent a night in prayer on a mountain. The fruit of the night of prayer was the choosing of the Twelve, “whom he named apostles.” They are now invited to witness the heart of his teaching in the sermon that follows. Why does Matthew depict Jesus going up on a mountain and his disciples following him onto the mountain, while Luke depicts Jesus coming down from the mountain and giving the same sermon? The answer lies in their differing theologies. For Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses delivering the new Torah or teaching just as Moses did in connection with Mt. Sinai. For Luke, Jesus is the first Christian Saint, not on a mountain but in the midst of his people, “to get the smell of the sheep.”

Both Matthew and Luke begin the sermon with a series of blessings, the Beatitudes. Matthew has nine. Luke has four. Matthew’s blessings are more impersonal, directed toward groups in the third person plural, except his ninth beatitude. For example, the poor, the meek, the hungry, the peacemakers, etc. Luke’s blessings are all directed to second person groups. Examples: “Blessed are you . . . .” They correspond somewhat to Matthew’s groups, the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the bullied, that is, those who are hated, excluded, insulted, denounced. Matthew has no corresponding curses to his blessing. His curses or woes will come later, lots of them. Luke gives us four curses or woes corresponding directly to his blessings.

The blessing on “you poor” generates a curse on “you rich.” The blessing on “you who are hungry now generates a curse on “you who are well fed now.” The blessing on “you who weep now generates a curse on “you who laugh now.” The blessing on “you who are bullied now” generates a curse on “you when all speak well of you.” Luke’s gospel is preeminently the gospel of the poor, the handicapped, the excluded, socially and physically — tax collectors, widows, the bereaved, those left without a social safety net, women of the street, all those whom the snobs of society deemed to be sinners, including all Gentiles. Thus Luke’s gospel more than the other gospels emphasizes universal salvation, universal redemption, repentance, forgiveness. The universality of salvation in Luke’s theology should be understood to include faith in Jesus, as he adds to the fourth Beatitude, “on account of the Son of Man,” that is, Jesus. An example would be one of the guerillas or bandits crucified next to Jesus. This man professes faith in Jesus at the last moment of his life. Jesus “saves” him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”