6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

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

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Blessings and Curses
Under the Law of the Sinai Covenant there were promised blessings for the people of God if they persisted in obedience to the Law of the Covenant (Lev 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14), but there were also curse judgments for disobedience to the Covenant (Lev 26:14-43; Dt 28:15-68).  Under the old Law, the blessings and curse-judgments were material and temporal; however, under the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, the blessings and curses are spiritual and eternal.

The First Reading and the Psalm reading contrast God's blessings for the righteous that put their trust and hope in God with the curse judgments of the wicked who separate themselves from God by their free-will actions through engaging in sin.  In their actions the wicked condemn themselves to the curse of destruction.  Both these readings prepare us for the Gospel Reading in which Jesus raises issues of social justice in His Sermon on the Plain.  He promises eternal blessings to those who have suffered from social injustice in this life.  He also condemns the rich who ignored the plight of the poor and announces the curse judgments they will face in eternity for having lived a temporal life of plenty while immune to the suffering of others.

In the Second Reading St. Paul addresses the Christian belief in a bodily resurrection when Christ returns.  Paul writes that Christ's resurrection was not an end in itself.  Its completion lies in the resurrection of the just and the wicked at the end of the Age of Man, and in the eternal blessing that will follow for the righteous.  At Christ's return, all humanity will arise bodily as the completion of the great human harvest in God's call to the Last Judgment that will end for the just in the blessing of eternity with Christ in His heavenly kingdom (1 Thes 4:16; Rev 20:11-15).

The First Reading Jeremiah 17:5-8 ~ Blessed is the One who Trusts Yahweh
5Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.   6 He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.  7 Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.  8 He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.

In this poetic passage the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah contrasts the arid and fruitless life of those who trust only in themselves or in other human beings with those who live spiritually nourished lives because they trust in God to provide for them, even in times of distress.

The cursed who separate themselves from God The blessed who are in union with God
He trusts in other human beings He places his trust Yahweh
He rejects the spiritual in favor of the material He places his hope in Yahweh
He is like a barren bush in the desert He is like a tree planted beside life-giving water
His life is as barren and fruitless as a bush growing in unproductive ground He life is fruitful like a tree that is continually nourished even in times of distress

In verse 8 "heat" and "drought" represent the struggles every human being faces in a world full of sin while "water" is a symbol of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of those who are in union with God—placing their hope and trust in Him.  Even though the same dangers are encountered by the blessed one who trusts in God, he will be sustained by the power of God in his struggles, and he will continue to bear the fruit of righteousness. 

Responsorial Psalm 1:1-4, 6 ~ The Blessed and the Wicked
The response is: "Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."
 
1 Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked, nor sits in the company of the insolent, 2 but delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.
Response:
3 He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade.  Whatever he does, prospers.
Response:
4 Not so the wicked, not so; they are like chaff which the wind drives away. [...] 6  For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Response:

Psalm 1 stands as a preface to the whole Book of Psalms and opens the book by contrasting the destiny of the righteous and the wicked.  The psalm uses vivid similes to describe the choices in life between following the good and righteous path or in following the way of sin that leads to destruction.

The one who is "blessed" by God rejects the advice of the wicked and does not join in their activities.  He takes delight in the law of Yahweh and studies it day and night.  The "law of Yahweh" in verse 2 either refers to the Torah (the first five books attributed to Moses) or more likely to the entire contents of divine teaching and instruction.  The ways of the blessed stand in sharp contrasts to the "wicked" who by their actions distance themselves from God's life-giving presence.  The wicked, by their free-will actions in engaging in sin and corrupting others, condemn themselves to the curse of destruction.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20 ~ The Blessed Hope of Eternity
12 If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? [...] 16 If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.  18 Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Some among the Christian community at Corinth have evidently been denying the promise of a bodily resurrection at the time of Christ's Second Coming.  Paul answers these false claims with his argument in favor of a bodily resurrection at the end of the age of man and the inconsistencies and false logic of an argument against it.  He forcefully defends the resurrection of Christ that he defends as an essential truth of Christian faith, and he states that by raising from the dead Christ completes God's the work of redemption.

His basic argument is stated twice in verses 13 and 16.  In verse 16 he writes: 16  If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised...  His point is if there is no such thing as a bodily resurrection, then it has not taken place even in the case of Jesus' bodily resurrection.   His second point in verses 17-19 points to the grave consequence of this denial in that unless Christ is risen their faith does not save them and they are condemned never to be bodily resurrected with Christ.  St. Paul gives indirect arguments supporting Christ's resurrection by pointing out what a bad situation we would be in if Jesus had not risen from the dead:

  1. Our faith would be in vain since we are still lost in sin (verse 17).
  2. Therefore, our hope of eternal life would be in vain (verses 18-19).

St. Paul concludes his argument in verse 20 with a triumphant assertion of the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection, the positive implications and consequences.  He calls Christ the "Fruitfruits" of the resurrection.  Under the Law the "Firstfruits" were the portion of the harvest offered in thanksgiving to the Lord that implies the consecration of the entire harvest that will follow (Lev 34:26; Dt 26:1-11).  Christ's resurrection is not an end in itself.  Its completion lies in the continuation of the whole harvest that is ourselves.  At Christ's return, all humanity will arise bodily as the completion of the great human harvest in God's call to the Last Judgment that will end for the just in eternity with Christ in His heavenly kingdom (1 Thes 4:16; Rev 20:11-15).

The Gospel of Luke 6:17, 20-26 ~ The Blessings and Curses in the Sermon on the Plain
17 Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. [...] 20 And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for your will grieve and weep.  26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Jesus and His disciples went up the mountain in Luke 6:12, but now they have come down from the mountain to stand on level ground before He begins to teach not only the disciples but the crowds of people who have gathered. The crowd is composed of Jews who have come from the region of the Galilee, from Judea and God's holy city of Jerusalem in the south, and they have also come from the eastern Gentile coastal region of the great Gentile trading centers of Tyre and Sidon.

In Matthew's Gospel Jesus gives a homily on the mountain (Mt chapters 5-7), but in Luke's Gospel He teaches on the plain below the mountain (Lk 6:17-49).  A Beatitude teaching is found in both accounts, but St. Luke's Gospel records a different beatitude teaching than is found in Matthew's Gospel.  A beatitude (makarios in Greek) is a blessing bestowed by God.  There are three major theories that Bible scholars have developed to account for the differences between Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and Luke's Sermon on the Plain:

  1. Both Gospels give different accounts of the same discourse.
  2. The Gospels reflect two different homilies spoken at different times during Jesus' teaching ministry.
  3. The Gospels present two homilies delivered in close succession: one on the summit of the mountain only to the disciples and Apostles which is then followed by a second homily on the plain to the multitude.

Most Catholic Biblical scholars, ancient and modern, support the third theory.  Both teachings took place in the Galilee, but in Matthew's Gospel Jesus' Beatitude teaching took place on a mountain side (Mt 5:1) while the teaching in Luke took place on a plain after descending from a the mountain: In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God ...  And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground (Lk 6:12, 17a).

In Matthew's Gospel, the homily is directed to His Apostles and disciples: When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.  He began to teach them ... (Mt 5:1-2).  Luke includes the information that on the mountain top Jesus chose some of His disciples to be His Apostles: 12 In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.  13 When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles... (Lk 6:12-13). And in Luke's Gospel, Jesus descended the mountain with His disciples after a night of teaching and prayer, and then He directed His teaching to the crowds of people as well as to a larger group of disciples who came to hear Him preach (Lk 6:17-18a).

In St. Matthew's Gospel, the message was a spiritual message composed of 7 or 8 blessings and resulting in 7 or 8 promises (depending on how you count them), while in St. Luke's Gospel Jesus addressed 4 social justice issues which were followed by 4 curses/judgments directed against those who abuse the poor and perpetuate social injustice.

It may be an important distinction that the Beatitude teaching in St. Matthew's Gospel was presented to Jesus' disciples—to believers who had already come to acknowledge His authority (Mt 5:1).  They were ready to receive a "spiritual" teaching on how Jesus had come to transform the Old Covenant by intensifying, internalizing, and fulfilling the Law of the Old Covenant.  The multitude, consisting of the poor people and the crowds who came from near and far, could not have understood or accepted such a teaching.  They were far more concerned with the temporal blessings and the justice that was promised to them through obedience to the Old Covenant Law (Lev 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14).

Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke chapter 6 can be divided into 5 parts:
Part I: Beatitudes and curses/judgments (6:20-26)
Part II: The love of enemies (6:27-36)
Part III: Judging others and the parable of the blind guide (6:37-42)
Part IV: The parable of the tree and its fruit 6:43-45)
Part V: The parable of the two foundations (6:46-49)

The slope of the land from the site of the Mount of Beatitudes to the Sea of Galilee presents a spectacular natural amphitheater.  If Jesus stood on the level plain below the top of the hill where He taught the Sermon on the Mount, He could speak and be easily heard by a multitude of people standing or sitting along the hillside as it slopes down to the lake. 

Luke 6:20-26 ~ Blessings and Curse Judgments of the Sermon on the Plain
20 And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said:
 "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. 
21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. 
  Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. 
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 
25 But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. 
Woe to you who laugh now, for your will grieve and weep. 
26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26, Jesus gave His teaching in the style of the Sinai covenant treaty sanctions found in Leviticus 26:3-46 and Deuteronomy 28:1-46.  He gave a series of blessings and curses just like the blessings for obedience and the curses/judgments for disobedience that God told Moses to give the Israelites.  Jesus gave four blessings followed by four curse judgments.  But Jesus' new Kingdom blessings and curses/judgments are different from the blessings and curses/judgments of the Sinai Covenant. The Old Covenant sanctions of blessings and curses/judgments were all temporal.   Jesus' promised blessings and curses/judgments are eternal.   In verse 20 Jesus raises His eyes to His disciples because this teaching, like the Sermon on the Mount, is a challenge to them to lead a radically different life as an example to all those who would dare to follow the Christ in discipleship.

In His teaching Jesus raised issues of social justice followed by the blessings He promises to those who have suffered from social injustice in this life in verses 20-23:

  1. He promised the poor that they will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
  2. He promised the hungry that they will be filled.
  3. He promised the sorrowful that they will become joyful.
  4. He promised those who are persecuted for following Him that they will be rewarded in heaven just as the prophets of God were rewarded.

These "blessings" were then followed by four curses/judgments that He pronounced along with the ultimate consequences of the judgments.  He pronounced judgment on the rich who allowed poverty to increase without using the blessings of their material wealth to comfort the poor and suffering.  The rich who do not share their wealth will only receive temporal blessings in this life.  But their judgment is that they will remain spiritually impoverished, and they will have no share in the eternal blessings promised in Jesus' heavenly Kingdom:

  1. They will have no "wealth" in eternity.
  2. They may be full now, but they will be hungry for eternity.
  3. They may experience joy now, but they will suffer later beyond this earthly existence.
  4. They are compared to those who persecuted God's holy prophets.

Jesus speaks to four different groups who receive blessings and curses—and those contrasted groups are followed a significant fifth category:

  1. The poor and the rich
  2. The hungry and the satisfied
  3. Those who grieve and those who laugh
  4. Those are persecuted for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and those who persecute them.
  5. The true prophets and the false prophets. 

Jesus' judgments against the affluent who without conscience oppress or ignore the poor and suffering is similar to Isaiah's prophecy of judgment in 65:11-16: ... therefore, thus says the Lord GOD: Lo, my servants shall eat, but you shall go hungry; my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame ... (Is 65:13).  A true prophet speaks the word of God (Dt 18:17-20).  The Pharisees' opposition to God the Son has placed them in the category false prophets.

The question we must answer is this: Are these blessings and curse judgments relevant to us today?  Should we review this teaching on a regular basis?  See Mt 25:31-46 and Lk 12:15-20, 48.  The blessings and curse judgments Jesus spoke about are absolutely relevant to us.  In one's participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation/ Penance, these concerns should be a part of one's examination of conscience.  God's gift of material prosperity is meant to be shared with the less fortunate.  We are called to be God's agents of blessing.  This is the way He cares for the hungry, and the thirsty, and those persecuted unjustly.  We are His agents of blessing, and when we accept that responsibility, we are blessed in return.

Catechism References:
Jeremiah 17:5-6 (CCC 150)
1 Corinthians 15:12 (CCC 991); 15:20 (CCC 632, 991)
Luke 6:20-22 (CCC 2444); 6:20 (CCC 2546); 6:24 (CCC 2547)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016