“Blessings of a Different Kind”
February 17, 2019 – Year C – Epiphany 6
Nasrudin, the wise fool went to the rich man’s house for a party. He was turned away because of his patched clothes. Over and over he tried to get the rich man’s attention, whose name was Halil. But he was not successful.
So Nasrudin went home and returned wearing his finest robe, turban and shoes. Immediately he was welcomed by Halil and the guests, and seated at the banquet table.
After Nasrudin got everyone’s attention, he began to smear his elegant robe with food and filled his pockets with sweets. “Eat coat eat!” he shouted.
What do you mean telling your coat to eat?” asked Halil.
“Surely you want the coat to eat,” said Nasrudin. “For when I first arrived in my old clothes, there was no place for me. Now, with my new coat on, nothing is too good for me. This shows me that it was the coat and not me that you invited to your banquet!”
A story such as this pricks at our conscience and challenges us to look deep inside to our values. So too does our 2 scripture texts. Jeremiah quotes Psalm 1 and compares those who trust in God to trees, strongly rooted and nourished by streams of water. A tree with no roots, or with weak roots, will be vulnerable to any wind that blows. It may topple over, break, or simply die where it stands. That is the whole point. When we don’t feel the need to root ourselves in God, we are vulnerable to damaging winds, such as the winds of prejudice, complacency, or hatred. This proclamation reminds us just how much we need God.
Where we place our trust is the subject of this wisdom poem in Jeremiah. Those who trust in human strength are likened to “shrubs in the desert” while those who trust in God are like” a tree planted by water.” Both manage to survive under normal circumstances, but, when drought comes, only the tree whose roots go deep need not fear. Like trees by a stream those who trust in God have an abundance of life within that carries them through difficult and dangerous times.
Jeremiah wrote in a turbulent time of invasion and exile. Those who trusted in military strength to protect them were shattered. Those who trusted in God were able to face the future with hope. For everyone, it was a period of testing through which their character and beliefs were revealed to God. While only some contemporary believers experience the tribulations, Jeremiah knew we still live with the realization that the most difficult moments in life reveal what we are really like and who it is we trust.
On the street I saw a naked child, hungry, shivering in the cold. I grew angry and asked God, “why do you permit this? Why don’t you do something?” There was silence. That night God replied, “I did something! I made you!”
Within Luke’s gospel various kinds of followers surround Jesus in his ministry. Closest to him are the 12 – disciples chosen to be his constant companions and witnesses. There are also other disciples who travel with Jesus, seeking to learn the way of life. In addition, Luke seems to distinguish between the people who seek Jesus out for healing and teaching and the crowds who want what his power can do for their lives. All swirl around Jesus in the opening verses of today’s reading.
But – it is to the inner circle of disciples that Jesus addresses the teachings on blessings and woes. Blessed are those among his disciples who are poor, hungry, or weeping. Blessings is theirs because God is acting in Christ to over-turn the way of the world which oppresses and diminishes God’s people. The hunger and grief of poverty is a real reminder that all is not as God intends. Those who now know wealth, sufficiency, and happiness have what God intends for all. But because they have it while others do not, they participate in maintaining that which God deems unjust. Woe or judgment will come to them.
Perhaps more telling than the specific yet relative conditions of poverty and wealth is the contrast Jesus makes between those who suffer because of their association with him and those of whom everyone speaks well. For Christ’s disciples having the approval of everyone means they are not following in the way of Christ but in the way of the world. Doing nothing that would bring about the transformation God intends may make for an uneventful life, but it does little to mark one as a disciple.
Both passages challenge us to explore where we put our trust. Where we place our trust, how we discern what is important, and what we seek in life determines our path. Sometimes we are aware of these choices, sometimes not. When we find ourselves seeking nourishment from that which cannot sustain life, we know that we have wandered into the wilderness and need to find our way home.
In our modern densely populated world, many of us think of wilderness as the abundance of forests, rivers and animals in danger of being eroded by the spread of human settlement. For biblical peoples, wilderness was a place where human life was barely sustainable, a place of fearful challenge. In today’s readings images of abundance and scarcity meld with those of wilderness and water to present us with the challenge of looking at how we sustain our life with God.
Where we place our trust, how we discern what is important, and what we seek in life determines our path. Sometimes we are aware of these choices, sometimes not. When we find ourselves seeking nourishment from that which cannot sustain life, we know that we have wandered into the wilderness and need to find our way home.
In the theater production of Les Miserables, Fantine, the young single mother, puts her beloved child Cosette into the care of the innkeeper and his wife, and takes a factory job to pay for her care. In the course of the story, Jean Valjean, a redeemed ex-convict, becomes the hope for this young mother as he accepts responsibility for her care, and they are both redeemed by love.
We are blessed people. The One we follow has turned the social hierarchy upside down. And because of that, we are forever changed. His teachings are nothing short of scandalous, because they overturn the status quo. However, it is into that reality that we live.
We sit beneath a tree planted by water, with its roots deep into the soil. We are not anxious or troubled. For we are disciples of Jesus Christ. We are filled with love and a strong sense of self-esteem. Thanks be to God. Amen.