Sixth Sunday - C - 2019. Jeremiah 17: 5-8. Corinth. 15: 12-20. Luke 6: 17, 2026.
I suspect that we are all familiar with that hymn from 'Western Priory' which contains the haunting refrain, 'Come back to me with all your heart; don't let fear keep us apart'. It was entitled 'Hosea'. Yet it could just as accurately have been called 'Micah, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah', because the calling of every prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures was to bring people back to Yahweh. Indeed, forming and building a relationship with God is at the heart of all faith. Yet no matter how deep our faith, we are always tempted to let our God-relationship dissolve into the background of our lives and replace it with a slavish adherence to rules, regulations, dogmas and doctrines. Many of us figure that a relationship with a specific structure or institution is more secure/ safer than a relationship with a God who is completely 'other' from ourselves, the institutions and the structures we create.
That is the situation Jeremiah faced in to-day's first reading. Scripture scholars tell us that this pre-Babylonian prophet had, after years of trying to bring about reform, eventually given up on the institution and structures of Judaism. For years it had being leading the people in directions Yahweh didn't want them to go. But once the Babylonian armies laid siege to Jerusalem in the early years of the 6th century BC, Jeremiah was convinced that Yahweh wanted the Israelites to surrender to their enemies, be exiled, thus effectively destroying the structures and institution which led them away from Yahweh.
Jeremiah then dreams that in exile, with all the externals of Judaism wiped out, the people would be forced to return to the basics/ essentials of their faith: their relationship with Yahweh. That would be all they have to build on. Jeremiah helped them to prepare for their exile with the contrasts he mentions in this passage: 'Cursed be the one who trusts in human beings'....'Blessed be the one who trusts in Yahweh'.
Luke imitates Jeremiah's contrast style in to-day's gospel reading. The 'blessings' resemble those listed by Matthew in he Beatitudes. But he adds four contrasting curses. And like Jeremiah, he gives the people a choice - will they choose the joys and blessings which come only from imitating Jesus' poverty, hunger, sadness and persecution OR will they pick the curses which come from imitating the wealth, satisfaction, laughter and social status of his enemies?
Only those who have formed a deep relationship with Jesus will dare to copy the lifestyle choices which Jesus taught and brought him to a new life.
In a parallel way Paul, writing 30 years before Luke, offers his Corinthian community the same choices. But he goes about it in a different way: it seems that some of the community had come to the conclusion that that they were not going to rise from the dead. They believed that Jesus was raised, but they did not see how that applied to themselves. So, Paul's only recourse was to return his readers to their primary relationship with the Risen Jesus. According to Paul's Christian teaching, those who believe in Jesus become one with Jesus. To form a relationship with Jesus implies that we identify with him; we actually become other Christs. If Jesus dies, we die: if Jesus comes to life, we come to life. To believe Jesus rose from the dead, but we don't, means we are the 'most pitiable people of all'. Our faith really is 'in vain'.
Some 50 years ago, the Second Vatican Council demonstrated that structures and institutions can and must change. It also reminded us, like to-day's three sacred authors, that our relationships with God and Jesus are at the very heart of our faith. They are the force and reason behind any structural and institutional change.
Have we, as individuals and as a community, bought into those truths? Or are we stuck in a medieval church with its structures that are no longer life-giving? What choices do we make?