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The Good News About Life: Seeing the Whole Picture

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

by Fr. David M. Knight

When you think about “happiness,” what is your time-frame? Are you boxed in to the present, unable to see beyond today? This year? Youth? Middle age? Old age? Death? Is short-term happiness really happiness? What about long-term but delayed? Or do you ever think deeply about happiness at all? Do you have Good News about this that means so much to you that you can share it with others? Jeremiah 17: 5-8 alerts us to a very basic choice that every one of us has made and is making right now. But we may not ever think about it. Where do we place our trust? Don’t ask this in the abstract, as a theoretical question (we all know the “right” answers), but in practical terms. When we go down to the foundations and look at what our lives (that means our life’s choices) are actually based on, what are we relying on? From day to day. Remember, we only live from day to day; our “life” is the succession of choices we make during each waking hour. They are the ones that count. It is true, our hourly choices — what to say, do, buy, sell or think about at this moment — are influenced, even determined, by deeper choices that we are hardly conscious of. What we have chosen to identify and pursue as “happiness.” What we have chosen to rely on for “success” in life. Or security. Or to win people’s love or good will. But the only way we can know what these deeper choices are is to see how they “take flesh” in the decisions of every day. So take a minute to ask what you are counting on when you decide to stop, go, turn left or right, or just let yourself be swept along by the current of your culture from sunrise to sunset. The Responsorial Psalm (1: 1-6), which is always chosen to sum up the first reading, declares “Happy are they who hope in the Lord.” No one would argue with that in the abstract. But how often have we made our daily choices based on conscious “hope in the Lord”? When we were dating as teenagers and wanted to “fit in”? When we chose a college, joined a sorority or fraternity? Picked out the clothes we wear? Made the last phone call? Most recently fired, hired or sought employment? Decided what to do on Sunday morning — or, for that matter, when we got up every morning from Monday to Saturday? Morning prayer? Daily Mass? Scripture reading? The stock market report? A sample question: do we put more conscious trust in a physical fitness program or in reading the Scripture every day? Which trust rules? We can trust in God and still rely on other people and things, of course. Or can we? Jeremiah says it is an “either-or” choice, and one of the most important decisions we make in life. “Cursed are those who put their trust in humans and rely on things of flesh…. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” The key question is, which trust determines our day-to-day decisions. Which is more evident in our lifestyle? When Jesus sent out his first “evangelizers,” he wanted their lifestyle to make a statement: “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts…” (Mark 6:8). What does mine say about the resources I rely on? “Blessed are they” Luke 6:17-26, says that when Jesus preached his “sermon on the mount” a “great crowd of people” gathered “from all Judea, Jerusalem [Jewish territory], and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon [heavily Gentile].” They had come “to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.” Two different motives. If they were trusting in Jesus primarily as a healer, they got a shock. He did heal: “power came out from him and healed them all.” But then he went on to overturn their whole value system — and ours. He promised “happiness” to people who had no hope of it, and said it is not to be found where people look for it. “Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, hated and excluded by other people, abused and denounced as criminal on account of the Son of Man.” As the theme of a “How To Get Happy” book, Jesus’ approach wouldn’t sell. Jesus didn’t try to sell it to the myopic. He took the long-range view, looking both forward and backward. “When people treat you like that,” he said, “Rejoice. Leap for joy. For your reward is great in heaven. That is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” When the chips are down, what crowd do you want to be with? The ones who have always stoned the prophets and who are still trying to silence “the voices that cry in the desert”? The oppressors of the weak, the exploiters of the poor, the armed and booted who use military might to defend both freedom and financial interests? Or do you want to be identified with those whose “citizenship is in heaven,” and whose trust is placed in the Savior who comes “from there… the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? What association gives you a greater sense of security? If you are short-sighted, looking only at life in this world, then you will probably choose, whether you admit it or not, to ally yourself with the rich and powerful. Or, as Jeremiah said, to “trust in mere mortals and rely on things of flesh.” It won’t make you happy, but at least you will be able to afford some distractions from the emptiness of your life. If you choose to “trust in the Lord,” your real hope is in a happiness that will last forever: the “eternal life” that is the “life to the full” Jesus came to give, and which consists essentially in knowing God: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 10:10,17:3). It begins on this earth and gives happiness on this earth, even to those who suffer. But that happiness is conditional on faith and hope in the ultimate blessing of sharing in the life and happiness of God. In the last analysis, the Good News rests on a platform of resurrection. “But in fact…” St. Paul makes this clear in 1Corinthians 15: 12-20: “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Why? First, because “if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins.” There is no mystery in being “forgiven.” But for Jesus to “take away” our sins, he has to incorporate us, with all our sins, into his body, so that we can die in him and return to the world as his risen body on earth: a “new creation.” Second, if Jesus did not rise, then “all who have died in Christ have perished.” Baptism was a one-way street. Leading nowhere. And life itself is a dead end. “But in fact,” Paul concludes, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” The resurrection of Jesus was just the beginning, the preview of ours. When we proclaim in the Gloria at Mass that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father,” we are rejoicing in our destiny. That is the Good News. Insight: Do you trust more in the ground under your feet or in God’s promise of heaven? Initiative: Talk to Jesus. Discuss what you think about “happiness.” What is your time-frame? Are you boxed in to the present, unable to see beyond today? This year? Youth? Middle age? Old age? Death? Is short-term happiness really happiness? What about long-term but delayed? Or do you ever think deeply about happiness at all? Do you have Good News about this that means so much to you that you can share it with others? Ask Jesus to grant you “wisdom” defined as” the habit of relating everything to the last end.”

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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