Ordinary VI: Choosing the right path?
Readings: Jeremiah 17.5-8; 1 Corinthians 15.12,16-20; Luke 6.17, 20-26.
Choosing the right path be it for a journey from one part of the city to another; be it perhaps when it comes to choosing a course of study; choosing a career – choosing which course of treatment might produce the best result for an illness – all of these decisions or choices that shape our life and faith can so often be difficult, challenging and complex.
However, when we look our readings this morning, especially from Jeremiah, Psalm 1 and Luke – we get a picture or message that is very clear cut and simple. It is kind of like a ‘good news / bad news’ announcement.
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
These Hebrew scriptures present us with a stark and clear contrast that certainly could be seen as over simplistic, however what belies and connects these scriptures is both law and wisdom that make it clear that the human heart is unreliable when it is left on its own [ie left to its own egocentric judgments]. Only God can provide reliable perception which is done through divine testing and searching. In other words, this is a proclamation that God offers us guidance about taking the right path but implicitly this also means that we need I think in the first place to listen and take it seriously – it is not forced upon us but the consequences of not taking it seriously and acting accordingly are clearly spelt out in powerful metaphoric language.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
In our gospel, again on the surface we have a seemingly stark contrast between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. Brendan Byrne in his commentary on this gospel notes that the meaning of the word ‘blessed’ in this context is something akin to ‘congratulations’ – the sort of thing you might say to someone who has just won the lottery or some prize – it has a meaning of how fortunate you are and then in contrast ‘Woe’ – how unfortunate you are. However, this seems somewhat outrageous to say ‘congratulations’ to someone for being poor. And like wise to say how unfortunate it is to be wealthy or well-fed. This does not make sense and ironically perhaps it is not meant to – because Jesus is inviting his disciples and audience – and us too – to think differently – to think in kingdom terms and again Brendan Byrne makes the point that this means understanding these sayings in the context of the coming reversal of fortune that is so prominent in Luke’s view of salvation. With the coming of the kingdom – all will be turned upside down. So imminent and so certain is this reversal that the thought of it overcomes the painfulness of the present. Only in this light is it reasonable to hold together ‘blessed’ and ‘poor’. Jesus is not endorsing poverty or hunger but rather insisting that what most people reckon to be advantages and disadvantages are relativized, and indeed reversed, in view of the coming action of God.
Again, we are invited to think differently – to embrace a new kind of wisdom – that says when we are vulnerable, when not only what we lack but what we are prepared to give up or let go of – [for example all those things that the world around us understands to be advantageous] then we are in a place or space to be filled with all that God desires to give us – all that we truly need to live the lives that God has created us to live. This was certainly the case for many who came to Jesus – as vulnerable, lacking of resources and in need – the ones of all who were most open to hearing and embracing the hospitality, love and healing that Jesus offered in his proclamation of the coming Kingdom and in his actions.
Not only in this gospel but right through the gospels we see Jesus inviting his disciples and audience – challenging them to embrace something radically new and different – challenging them to choose the kingdom of God and its ways that in terms of what they were used to simply did not make sense. And we see how difficult this is for even Jesus’ disciples to comprehend and embrace especially when this way of thinking puts Jesus, their Messiah at such great risk and danger with the authorities of the time. The disciples are reluctant to change – they resist as we see for example in Peter in that confrontation with Jesus when he declares that he must suffer and die. Peter protests and Jesus responds – Get behind me Satan …
The challenge of these scriptures as for the disciples then – so for us now in trying to discern and choose God’s path is first and foremost to listen. To listen not just with the ears but as St Benedict says in his prologue to the Rule – to listen with the ear of the heart – in other words to listen deeply. What this means, I believe is to listen with an openness – that is a preparedness to embrace something new and radically different – a preparedness to let go of rigidity or personal position [that defensively says I am right and everyone else is wrong], a preparedness to let go and make room for something new, different, uncomfortable, challenging and that I think more than often comes from left field so to speak.
Choosing the right path is almost certainly not as easy or clear cut in the nitty gritty of everyday life and faith yet we are not alone as followers of Jesus in making that choice. We have the scriptures – we have the words of Jesus in the gospels – we have the witness of the disciples, if only we listen – if only we listen prayerfully, deeply, humbly and with a preparedness to trust, to let go and change.