6th Sunday after Epiphany in Christ Temple
Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10 / 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 / Luke 6:17-26
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
Jesus is quite tough in today’s Gospel reading; it’s not exactly non-violent communication, and his words doesn’t sound all-inclusive. There are those people who are blessed, and there are those to whom he says, “Woe to you”. There is the kingdom of God people, and those who live according to other standards than those of God’s kingdom.
Jesus is in line with Jeremiah, since also Jesus is a prophet. Those who trust in the Lord are blessed; they are like at tree planted by water. They shall not fear heat, but their leaves stay green. Their life will be fruitful, and a blessing to others. But those who put their trust in human standards of success, power and might – even though humans are mortal, they are like a bush in the desert that will perish because of lack of water; there will be no lasting fruit of their life; others are not blessed by them.
Jesus says that it’s as we abide in him as branches in the vine that we’ll bear much fruit. I do not think that the harsh words of Jesus are said in a judgmental spirit and for welcoming some at the cost of others. But I think he warns us that our life can be unfruitful if we follow standards other than those of God’s Kingdom. The woes concern non-kingdom life – a life that does not seek the common good of other humans or of creation. As Jesus speaks according to Luke this applies very much to a society like our own and with standards as hour. We live in a society, focusing at becoming rich and successful, influential and powerful. A society where we seek our own fortune – perhaps on whatever cost. And isn’t this what the Chinese New Year is about: gold, gold and more gold, and isn’t this what Landmark and the other shopping malls are about. The Jesus of Luke speaks into a society where the poor, sick and marginalized are the victims of the self-interest of the rich and of the powerful; we notice a social indignation in his words.
When we seek our own fortune as the primary goal of life, we are living contrary to God’s purpose with creation. We were created to serve one another. Serving love keeps creation together as one; serving love is the foundation for cosmos, an ordered world. The fall started as a quest for self-realization, seeing the fruit of the tree of knowledge as more desirable than being stewards of God’s creation. The tree’s fruit was more important than the word of God. We fell victims of idolatry, worshipping creation. And thus, we became captives of our desires. The woes to the rich, to those with a full stomach, to those who are being entertained, to those who are enjoying the adoration and laud of others are spoken out of social indignation, but also at deepest level out of compassion and concern for their salvation and the restoring of a just social order according to God’s plan. It is a heart ache to Jesus that people are made victims by other people in their pursuit for wealth, power and satisfaction of desires, and that people are made victims of their own desires – because these desires for success will never be fulfilled. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 1:
Vanityof vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (NRSV)
Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)
man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Jesus speaks the woes in order to change people into blessings when we are set free. When we are grafted into Christ and we have our life in him, when he is our Master and Savior, we’ll follow him, asking the Holy Spirit to help us in being fully human just as Jesus was the son of man. The mark of being a disciple of Jesus is the love for the other disciples and the willingness to serve others. It’s to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness before anything else. Being poor, being hungry, weeping, living vulnerable lives doesn’t change that we are blessed. Jesus is with us, and his Spirit testifies to us that we are God’s children, beloved and appreciated as we are. We shouldn’t achieve any status, we’re not in need of success for being God’s children. True joy and satisfaction come from this grace of God and from living out of God’s grace in a serving fellowship.
Living in the fellowship of Jesus together with sisters and brothers is living in the kingdom of God. It’s experiencing the fulfillment of creation in the midst of a mortal existence, a perishable world. The fellowship of serving love is an anticipation of the fulfilment. Christ in us and among us is the hope of glory, because he is God present, because he is life out of death.
This what St. Paul reminds us, speaking of the resurrection of the dead and of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus suffered torture and an unjust death penalty, but he didn’t resist those mistreating him. He was intent to show us his love to its uttermost consequence – being one with us when we fall victims to sin – our own sin, and the sins of others towards us, being one with a world in which God’s kingdom was usurped by the Devil, death and all life threatening forces, being one with us in our uttermost vulnerability as all our life seems to be empty and meaningless, being one with us when life seems godforsaken. This serving love, however, is the source of life. Death and the destructive powers couldn’t contain it. Jesus rose from the dead. With Jesus there is life in this perishable world.
It’s not true that all is vanity, and that everything is meaningless. It’s only so if we live in the woes. In Christ we are blessed whatever is the conditions of life. With Christ and in Christ we see the true human life; with Christ in our hearts we live in the hope the fulfilment of God’s plan for creation, attaining the fulness of Christ. Because he rose from the dead, we will live – and we will by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy and Lifegiving Spirit live Kingdom of God lives.
Let’s take some time in silence asking Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds to enlighten us concerning our walking with Christ in the newness of life and in serving love…