In our first reading taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we are given a stark contrast: to be like a “barren bush in the desert” or “a tree planted beside the waters.” What is the difference, according to the prophet? The difference is whether you put your trust in the Lord instead of in people and things that can never satisfy. The theological virtue of hope is more akin to trust than it is to wishing. In our response for today’s Psalm, the first Psalm, we stated this more succinctly: “Blessed are they who in hope in the Lord.”
Hope is the flower of faith and charity- caritas in Latin, agape in Greek- is the fruit of hope. This relationship is demonstrated very well in today’s readings. Our hope is in Christ Jesus and him alone. He is the One through whom what we desire, life eternal, is not merely a wish
St. Paul, in our reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, makes this very clear. Belief in Christ’s resurrection and the hope of our own resurrection are the cornerstone and foundation of Christian faith, respectively. Indeed, if Christ has not been raised from the dead there is no purpose for us to be here today. If Christ is not alive and we are not awaiting his return then the Eucharist we celebrate is not only an empty ritual but a bit of a fraud.
Christ is risen from the dead! This, my dear friends, is the Good News. In the Eucharistic Prayer, after the institution narrative and consecration, at the invitation of the presider we sing together the Memorial Acclamation, one of which is: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 112). This brief acclamation tells us exactly what Holy Communion is all about.
To be in communion with Christ is to be in communion with other members of his Body. Together, as members of Christ’s Body we constitute the Church. It is the mission of the Church always and everywhere to proclaim Christ’s salvific death, his glorious resurrection, and his return in glory when God becomes “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Today’s Psalm is a precursor to today’s Gospel reading. Along with Jesus’s teaching in the Gospel, the first Psalm gives us insight into what it means to live in hope, to be a person of hope belonging to a people of hope. The People of God is nothing if not a communion of hope, rooted in faith, committed to loving God by loving our neighbor.
Hope lies beyond optimism. This what the Scriptures teach us. There is a striking passage in the book of one of the minor prophets, Habakkuk, that helps us to see this quite clearly, The passage is found in the third chapter of Habakkuk under the heading “Hymn About God’s Reign”:
For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God (3:17-18)
Like its parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel, today’s Gospel tells us it means to live in hope. Being a person of hope translates into being a person of love. Being a person of love is just a longer way of saying “Being a Christian.” Being a Christian means being Jesus’s disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus is not a passive endeavor, but something that requires your entire being: all your strength and all your mind (Luke 10:27). Along with the Sermon on the Mount, we can be confident that Luke’s Sermon on the Plain provides us with the core of Jesus’s teaching.
In his Sermon on the Plain, Luke gives us a version of the Beatitudes along with their opposites. Jesus teaches that we should “Rejoice and leap for joy” on the day we find ourselves poor, hungry, grieving and cast off. What could be more opposite to worldly wisdom than this seeming foolishness? The Lord tells us that what we typically think of as blessings are often the biggest the obstacles we face in becoming true disciples of Christ. Conversely, our woes are the means of sanctification.
If practicing the Beatitudes brings about the fullness of life, making the one who practices them like “a tree planted beside the waters,” then practicing their opposites ultimately result in emptiness and even death, making the one who places his hope in worldly things like Jeremiah’s “barren bush in the desert.”
Those who seek their reward in the here-and-now set their sights far too low. Earlier in First Corinthians, Paul, quoting Isaiah insists: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein always took religious questions with the utmost seriousness. Responding to St. Paul’s insistence that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), he admitted, “I cannot call [Jesus] Lord; because that says nothing to me” (Culture and Value, 33). He went on to say that he could call Jesus “the paragon,” or even call him “God” but he could not say he is Lord because he felt he could not “utter the word ‘Lord’ with meaning” (Ibid).
Wittgenstein insisted he could not say “Jesus is Lord” with meaning because he did not believe Jesus would judge him (Ibid). What I find most meaningful about Wittgenstein’s relentless honesty in this instance is that he comes clean about something that we Christians tend to not be very honest about, namely confessing Jesus as Lord and then living lives not rooted in the Beatitudes. Interestingly, he concluded this thought by saying, “it could say something to me, only if I lived completely differently” (Ibid).
While Wittgenstein did not go on to discuss what he meant by living “completely differently,” we who confess Jesus as Lord and profess to believe “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” ought to live differently. Living differently is the proof as to whether or not saying “Jesus is Lord” amounts to just uttering words or is a Spirit-led confession. How differently are we to live? As differently as Jesus teaches us to live in today’s Gospel.
Later in the same chapter from which today’s Gospel reading is taken, Jesus says to his followers: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46). He then goes on to explain how those who listen to his words and “act on them” are like the one who builds her house on a solid foundation (Luke 6:48). Such a house withstands the flood. But the one who hears Jesus’s teaching and “does not act” is like the person who builds his house on the ground, laying no foundation (Luke 6:49). When rain falls and the river rises, this house collapses and is destroyed.
Jesus’s teaching in today’s Gospel is a provocation. “Provocation” is a compound word derived from Latin: pro, meaning “for” and vocation meaning “calling.” In last Sunday’s readings we heard about the call of a prophet and four apostles. Today’s Gospel is about our vocation to live as people of hope in light of Jesus’s resurrection.
Jesus’s challenging teaching is about living out the call you received at your Baptism, in which you died, were buried, and rose with Christ to new life. You were more fully empowered to live this out in Confirmation. You are strengthened for your vocation in each and every Eucharist. As a Christian, your vocation is to live your life by what Jesus taught, even his difficult teachings. A friend of mine recently opined: “Everybody loves Jesus until it’s time to do what Jesus said.” My sisters and brothers, Jesus is Savior only because he is Lord.