Monday, March 18, 2019

LENT IIIA


3rd Sunday of Lent A (for the RCIA scrunities)

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7   Romans 5:1-14   John 4:5-42

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  This question tested the Exodus generation in the wilderness and the Samaritan woman and her kinsfolk, and it continues to challenge the Christian community as it moves toward the renewal of its baptismal commitment at the Easter Vigil.  We Christians thirst for the life-giving water of Jesus’ revelation while we live in the time between his saving death and resurrection and the completion of God’s kingdom.
The story of the water from the rock in Exodus 17 has been chosen for its relation to the Gospel selection from John in which Jesus proclaims to the Samaritan woman that he is “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The Israelites’ journey from Egypt through the wilderness is a time of danger and testing.  They encounter numerous obstacles as they move from one camping place to another: bitter water, lack of food and water, and an attack from the fierce Amalekites.  In most cases they are fearful and complaining, unprepared for the challenge of faith and nostalgically longing for a return to the security of Egypt.  In this Sunday’s reading, they grumble against Moses and say, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?  Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”  Their whole demeanor can be summed up in the words spoken at Massah and Meribah as they quarreled and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  Yet the Lord consistently meets their grumbling with his provident care.  In our selection, he gives instructions for Moses to use his staff to bring forth water from the rock “for the people to drink.”
In the reading from Romans, Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to joyfully live out the consequences of Christ’s saving death and resurrection.  He uses several metaphors to express what Christ has done for them by dying and rising from the dead.  He has “justified (them) by faith,” made them “at peace with God,” given them “access to grace.”  But, although in one sense salvation has been achieved in Christ, Paul is also aware that it is not complete.  Christ’s death has made salvation accessible, but the Christian community must endure in faith and hope until Christ’s return.  The source of Christian hope in this time of suffering and testing is what God has already done for humanity through the death of Christ.  “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
In the unforgettable dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, John presents Jesus as the gift of God who offers “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” to a woman who is a sinner and outcast by the standards of contemporary Judaism.  By the end of this long, but intricately interconnected episode, the woman has become an apostle whose testimony brings many Samaritans to belief in Jesus.

The dialogue uses John’s typical instruction pattern of irony and misunderstanding.  Jesus is tired from his journey through Samaritan territory and sits down in the heat of the midday sun at Jacob’s well in Shechem.  When he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, she apparently refuses and points out the well-known antipathy between Jews and Samaritans.  Jesus then challenges her to request the “living water” which he can give as God’s gift (salvation).  Ironically, she thinks Jesus is referring to running spring water and points out that he has no bucket to draw water from the deep well and that he is surely not greater than the Samaritans’ ancestor, Jacob, who founded this well.  Jesus then replies that the water he gives will overcome thirst and become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Christian reader understands this as a beautiful description of baptism, but when the woman still interprets his language on a natural level, Jesus offers her a sign of his supernatural knowledge of her sinful past: she has had five husbands and the man she is now living with is not her husband.  This moves the woman to recognize Jesus as a prophet, and she proceeds to question him about whether the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim or the Jewish temple in Jerusalem is the proper locale for worship.  Jesus responds by proclaiming that an hour is coming when authentic worship of the Father will not depend upon place, but will be done “in Spirit and truth” (a reference to the gift of God’s love through the Son).  With this revelation, the woman realizes that God’s Messiah may be standing before her, and, with Jesus’ proclamation that “I am he” ringing in her ears, she leaves her now useless water jar and goes to invite the townspeople to see the man “who told me everything I have done.”  By the end of the episode the Samaritan woman has become a full believer and witness to Christ.  In fact, as the other Samaritans come to believe in Jesus on the basis of his own word, the Samaritan woman, like John the Baptist (3:22-30), rejoices greatly as she decreases and Jesus increases.  Let us, like the Samaritan woman, take the challenge of today’s psalm response and turn to the life-giving water that is Christ: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95). 

LENT IIIC


3rd Sunday of Lent C

Readings: Exodus 3:1‑15  1 Corinthians 10:1‑12  Luke 13:1‑9

            Midway through our Lenten journey, we are challenged by God's call to struggle against oppression and to reform our own lives.  As we listen to this Sunday's warnings to repent, let us sing with courageous confidence the refrain of the psalm: "The Lord is kind and merciful" (Ps 103).
            To understand the terrifying challenge of Moses' call we must recall the bleak situation of both Israel and Moses at the beginning of the book of Exodus.  A powerful and paranoid Pharaoh has cruelly imposes slave labor upon the Israelites and plans to kill all their male children (Exodus 1).   Moses himself narrowly escapes death through the heroic actions of his mother, sister, and the Pharaoh's daughter (2:1‑10).  And, when he attempts to help his people by slaying an  Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew and then tries to stop two  Hebrew slaves from fighting, his efforts are rejected with the retort, “Who made you a prince and judge over us?  Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Ex 2:14).  Realizing that the murder was known to the Pharaoh, Moses flees to Midian where he marries the daughter of the priest of Midian and begins to tend his father‑in‑law's flocks.  His son's name, Gershom, meaning "I am a stranger in a foreign land," reflects his present status as an exile from his suffering people (Ex 2:22).     
            If Moses is to save his people, he must be called and equipped by God, and that is the point of today's burning bush story.  His call begins with an experience of the awful holiness of God.  When Moses turns aside to see the burning bush, God tells him, “Come no nearer!  Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”  After God has identified himself as the God of the fathers, he announces: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
            Understandably, Moses doubts that his own people will believe that he speaks for God, and therefore he asks, “When I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”  The old name, “God of the fathers,” is inadequate for this new stage of God's action.  God answers by saying, “I am who I am.”  Moses is to tell the Israelites that “I am” sent him and that the sacred name, “Yahweh,” is to be his title for all generations.  Yahweh is the transposed third person form of "I am who I am."  The sacred name connotes God's freedom and unrestricted power to save his people.  Equipped with this new revelation and numerous miraculous signs (Exodus 4), Moses will eventually obey the Lord’s call and undertake the task of freeing his people.

            The Epistle warns us that even those called by God can fall.   Paul reminds the Corinthians, who were tempted to take part in pagan worship services (see 1 Corinthians 8‑10), that even the Exodus generation, led by Moses, fell into the sin of idolatry.  Despite having God's cloud for guidance, passing through the sea, and being given manna and water from the rock (see Exodus 13‑17), many of the fathers "were struck down in the desert" for their sin in making the golden calf (Exodus 32).  Their example is a warning:  "Let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he fall!"
            In today's Gospel Jesus uses two recent tragedies and a parable to warn the crowds of the dire consequences of failure to repent.  Both the Galileans cruelly killed by Pilate and the eighteen crushed by the tower of Siloam were not necessarily terrible sinners, but their sudden deaths should alert the crowd to the seriousness of Jesus' call to reform.  Twice Jesus repeats the warning: “But I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you begin to reform” (Lk 13:3,5).  Jesus' fig tree parable stresses that the time for repentance is running out.  Only the vinedresser's intercession keeps the exasperated vineyard owner from cutting down the tree which has failed to bear fruit for three years.  The crowds, like the fig tree, have only one more chance for repentance.  The vinedresser's words should remind us that during this Lent we too have only this opportunity for repentance from our sins. `Sir leave it another year while I hoe around it and manure it; then perhaps it will bear fruit.  If not, it shall be cut down.'

Monday, March 11, 2019

Lent II C


2nd Sunday of Lent C

Readings: Genesis 15:5‑12,17‑18                                           Philippians 3:17‑4:1      Luke 9:28‑36

            On the Second Sunday of Lent the Church's liturgy always presents us with the story of Jesus' Transfiguration.  In the midst of the journey to the cross in Jerusalem, we-- through the eyes of Peter, John, and James-- are given a glimpse of Jesus' ultimate glory as God's Son and admonished to “listen” to his teaching.  As we continue our Lenten journey, let us pray with faith the refrain of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (Ps 27).
            The Old Testament readings for this Lent recount the central stories of the history of salvation which lead up to the promise of the New Covenant.  Last Sunday we heard the retelling of the exodus from Egypt, and this week we recall the covenant with Abram/Abraham (Genesis 15).
            This story highlights Abram's faith in God's promises of offspring and land, despite apparently insurmountable obstacles to their fulfillment.  The first is the barrenness of Sarai/Sarah, his wife (see Gen 11:30).  In the lines immediately before our reading, Abram complains, “See you have given me no offspring, and so one my servants will be my heir” (Gen 15:3).  But the Lord promises Abram that his own issue will be his heir (15:4) and then says: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.  Just so shall your descendants be” (15:5).  Without further complaint, "Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness" (15:6).  A second obstacle is that the Canaanites are occupying the land promised to Abram (see Gen 12:1‑9). And so he asks, “O Lord God how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:7‑8).  This time the Lord gives instructions for the sealing of a solemn covenant which Abram dutifully performs.  In ancient covenant ceremonies contracting  parties "cut a covenant" by splitting animals in two and passing  between the halved parts to indicate that they were willing to be  dismembered, if they should fail to keep the covenant.  In this case, the Lord, under the form of "a smoking brazier and a flaming torch," passes between the parted animals and binds himself with the oath: “To your descendants I give this land from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River.’”
            The Epistle reading from Philippians continues the theme of faithful trust in the future fulfillment of God's promises and also expresses Paul’s faith in the transfiguration of the body of believers beyond death through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.   While in prison and facing the prospect of death, Paul asks the Philippians, who are tempted to put their trust in the bodily observances of Judaism, especially circumcision and dietary laws, to imitate him by trusting in the cross of Christ and the second "coming of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  He reminds them that they have their "citizenship in heaven” and are living in faith for the future when Christ "will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body, by his power to subject everything to himself." 

            Luke's account of the Transfiguration is closely tied to the beginnings of Jesus' fateful journey to Jerusalem (see 9:22‑62), and therefore emphasizes his coming passion and resurrection.  When Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, appear in glory with Jesus, they speak "of his exodus which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem."  In Luke, Jesus, like the suffering prophets before him, has a destiny to go to Jerusalem to die, then be raised up and pour out the Spirit on his disciples (see Lk 13:31‑35; Acts 1-2; Deuteronomy 34; 2 Kings 2). At this point Jesus' disciples can neither understand this mission, nor its implications for their lives.  They will be instructed in the way of discipleship on the long journey to Jerusalem (9:55‑19:27), but only with Jesus' resurrection will they begin to understand that according to the Law and the prophets "it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory" (see Lk 24:25‑27, 44‑49).  Therefore Peter, upon seeing the glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, wants to build “three booths” to honor them.  We are informed, "He did not really know what he was saying."   When Jesus, Moses, and Elijah enter the cloud, God's voice speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen One.  Listen to him.”  As they leave the mount of Transfiguration to begin the journey to Jerusalem, the disciples see only Jesus, but they have been told what to do.  They are to listen to the Son and Chosen One as he teaches them about a life of service on the way to his cross, resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

LENT I C


1st Sunday of Lent C

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4‑10  Romans 10:8‑13  Luke 4:1‑13

            The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent always recounts the devil's temptation of Jesus in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry.  This year's readings contrast Jesus' trusting faith in his Father with the worldly illusions of the devil.  In this penitential season of Lent, let each of us trust in the Lord by praying: "Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble" (Ps 91).
            A spirit of trusting gratitude marks Moses' instruction for the confession of faith in offering the first fruits of the harvest to the Lord in the Book of Deuteronomy.  Israel is to acknowledge that her very existence as a people is a gift from the Lord.  When the Israelite farmer presents the basket of first fruits to the priest, he is to recite his people's story by praising the Lord for his “terrifying power” in delivering the ancestors from oppression in Egypt and leading them into the “land flowing with milk and honey.” After presenting the first fruits and bowing down in the Lord's presence, the farmer's whole family is to “make merry over all the good things which the Lord, your God, has given you.”
            Paul's reflections in Romans also celebrate faith in God's saving action.  In this section of Romans, Paul is struggling with the fact that many of his Jewish brethren have clung to salvation through the Law and have not accepted faith in Christ (see Romans 9‑11).  Paul is convinced that in Christ's death and resurrection the way of justification and salvation has been opened for both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). In our passage Paul is doing a midrash, or a "running commentary," on Old Testament texts to convince his Jewish readers that Christ is the goal or end of the Law.  He applies a text from Deuteronomy to Christ.  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Deut 30:14).  This leads to the exhortation to “confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. . .”  Paul then continues with a text from the Book of Isaiah: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Isa 28:16).  On the basis of this text, Paul argues that both Jew and Greek (Gentile) can find in Christ “the same Lord, rich in mercy toward all who call upon him.”  Finally, he concludes his reflections on the salvation available to all in Christ with a joyful quotation from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 3:5).
            Luke's story of the devil's temptation of Jesus in the desert continues today's theme of trusting faith in God.  In the background for Jesus’ trial is the text from Deuteronomy 8:2 in which Moses recalls the testing of the Israelites in the wilderness:  “Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart‑‑ whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Unlike Israel of old, Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit” as God's loyal Son and Servant, will pass the devil's tests by being faithful to God.

            The temptations are insidious because they appeal to Jesus’ power as “Son of God” and recall the heavenly voice at his baptism where Jesus heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (see 4:3,9 and 3:22).  Each of the devil's temptations offers an alluring worldly prize, but Jesus repeatedly responds with quotations from Deuteronomy which affirm his faithful trust in God.  After his forty day fast Jesus is hungry, and the devil proposes: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to turn into bread.”  Jesus rejects the devil's appeal to squander his power on his own mere physical sustenance by pointing to the spiritual food that comes from being obedient to God's word: “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone shall man live’” (Deut 8:3).  When the devil offers him the kingdoms of the world in return for his homage, Jesus repeats the first and greatest commandment of his Jewish faith: “Scripture has it, ‘You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore’” (Deut 6:13). Finally, the devil leads Jesus to Jerusalem and challenges him to put his Father to the test by throwing himself from the parapet  of the temple and demanding that as the Scripture says “He will  bid his angels watch over you . . .” (Ps 91:11‑12).  But Jesus rejects the devil's presumptuous challenge to God with the simple statement of trust drawn from the lessons of his people's wilderness traditions: “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” As we begin our Lenten journey of fasting and penance, let the faithful and trusting Jesus be our guide.

Monday, February 25, 2019

8th Sunday C


8th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Sirach 27:4‑7  1 Corinthians 15:54‑58  Luke 6:39‑45

            “Each tree is known by its yield.”  In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus reaffirms the wisdom traditions of his Jewish ancestors and continues to instruct his disciples in the ethics of the Kingdom of God.   Our responsorial psalm (Ps 92) promises that "the just shall flourish like the palm tree/ like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow."  In gratitude for this assurance, let us sing the words of the refrain: "Lord, it is good to give thanks to you."
            The reading from Sirach makes the sage observation that, for better or worse, speech and conversation reveal a person's character. “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace,/ so in his conversation is the test of a man.” On the one hand, when evil people speak, their faults are evident. “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear,/ so do a man’s faults when he speaks.” On the other hand, thoughtful speech discloses the bent of one's mind, like “the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had.”
            The Epistle reading concludes Paul's defense of the resurrection, which we have been reading for the past four weeks in 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul asserts that at the final resurrection, when our "corruptible frame takes on incorruptibility and the mortal immortality," God's final victory over Sin and Death will be complete.  He understands this victory as the fulfillment of two Scripture texts drawn from the prophets: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (Isa 25:8) and "O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?" (Hos 13:14).   Although the law was powerless to defeat the allied powers of Sin and Death (see Rom 7), Paul thanks God that the victory has now been won "through our Lord Jesus Christ" in his obedient death and triumphant resurrection.  He concludes by exhorting the Corinthians to “be steadfast and persevering . . . in the work of the Lord.”
            In the Gospel Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain by giving his disciples a series of priceless parables about judgment.  Some of them are quite humorous.  He captures the folly of committing one's life to a foolish teacher in the questions: "Can a blind man act as guide to a blind man? Will they not both fall into a ditch?"  He lampoons the presumption of daring to judge someone else in the picture of the hypocrite straining to remove “the speck” in his brother's eye while he has a “plank” in his own. "Why look at the speck in your brother's eye when you miss the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ yet fail yourself to see the plank lodged in your own.” We should rather be concerned with correcting our own faults. “Hypocrite, remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  He reminds his disciples that their deeds reveal what is in their hearts.  “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit; nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.  For every tree is known by its fruit.  For people do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, nor do the gather grapes from brambles.”  And he concludes with the observation we heard in Sirach, speech reveals a person’s character.  “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil, but from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

7th Sunday C


7th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 2-23  
1 Corinthians 15:45‑49  Luke 6:27‑38

            No ethical teaching is more characteristic of Jesus than the command, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . ." (Lk 6:27).  But nothing seems to violate our natural instinct to self-preservation, if not retaliation, than the saying, "When someone slaps you on the cheek, turn and give him the other" (Lk 6:29).  Only with the guidance of the compassionate Father revealed to us by Jesus do we dare to walk on this most unworldly path.  "The Lord is kind and merciful."  Let the refrain for this Sunday's psalm (Ps 113) remind us of the Father's compassion for us sinners and even for our enemies.
            The Old Testament reading from Samuel recounts David's sparing of King Saul who has repeatedly attempted to kill him (see 1 Samuel 18‑23).  Although David's harp playing and warrior prowess are Saul's only hopes for sanity and victory over the Philistines, the king's mad jealousy has driven David from court and forced him to live as a virtual outlaw in the wilderness. Despite having every human reason for taking vengeance against Saul, David refuses to kill the Lord's anointed king.  In fact this is the second time that David has had Saul within his grasp (see 1 Samuel 24).  Each time David's men urge him to take his vengeance upon the king.  In today's reading, Abishai whispers to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.  Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!”  But David refuses and says, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord's anointed and remain unpunished?”  Instead of taking vengeance, David removes Saul's sword and water jug which he later uses to remind the king of his magnanimity.  “Here is the king's spear. . .  The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness.  Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord's anointed.’”
            In the Epistle reading Paul continues his defense of the resurrection to the Corinthians.  One of the problems they had was visualizing the manner of the resurrection of the dead and the nature of resurrected bodies.  In the section preceding our reading, Paul uses a metaphor drawn from the planting of seeds to describe the miraculous transformation of our bodies at the resurrection. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel . . . So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (1 Cor 15:36‑42). In our reading Paul makes the same argument using an antithetical contrast between the first man, Adam, who was natural and earthly, and Christ, the second Adam, who was spiritual and heavenly.  He concludes with the assertion, "Just as we resemble the man from earth, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven" (1 Cor 15:49).

            This Sunday's Gospel continues Jesus' sermon on the plain in Luke by amplifying the meaning of the blessings and curses which we heard in last week's gospel.  Jesus' commands are addressed to would be disciples, “To you who hear I say . . .”   The first set instructs the disciples in the way to respond to the persecution and hatred envisioned in the beatitude, “Blessed are you when  people hate you . . .” (Lk 6:22).  Jesus commands his persecuted followers to love and even bless and pray for their enemies (Lk 6:27‑29).  In the second set of commands, Jesus is challenging the rich and comfortable (6:24‑26) to use their wealth generously, even to the point of sharing with their enemies.  “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? . . . love your enemies and do good to  them, and lend expecting nothing back” (Lk 6:34‑35).  
            Jesus concludes these radical teachings by giving the basis for his whole ethic.  His disciples are called to be “children of the Most High” by living out the merciful love of God, “for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:35‑36).

Monday, February 11, 2019

6th Sunday C


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

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

            "Happy are they who hope in the Lord."  This Sunday's responsorial psalm (Ps 1) reminds Christians that trust in God is the only ultimate security.  In a society that idolizes independence and self-fulfillment, today's readings challenge us to acknowledge our dependence upon God and to live lives of grateful service.
            The reading from Jeremiah is a wisdom saying affirming trust in the Lord as the only source of lasting happiness.  Using graphic imagery drawn from life in the desert, Jeremiah contrasts the curse ridden life of the godless person with the blessed life of one who trusts in God.  The one “whose heart turns away from the Lord" and trusts in mere “flesh” is cursed “like a barren bush in the desert,” standing “in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.”  In contrast, the one “who trusts in the Lord” is blessed “like a tree planted beside the waters” that remains green through the heat of summer and will produce fruit even in "the year of drought."   Notice that those who trust in God are not free from the ravages of “heat” and “drought,” but they are still able to bear fruit because of the strength that their “hope” in the Lord gives them. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,/ whose hope is the Lord./ 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.”                   
            The Epistle continues from last Sunday's reading Paul's defense of the resurrection to the Corinthians.  In this week’s selection he begins by supposing that there is no resurrection from the dead and examines what happens to the gospel in that case.  Without the resurrection, Christ has not been raised; Christian faith is vain; and the Corinthians are still in their sins, because Christ has not triumphed over Sin and Death. Paul concludes by bluntly asserting, “If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men.” Having explored what denying the resurrection does to the gospel, Paul then reaffirms that indeed “Christ has been raised from the dead” and speaks of him as the first fruits of a harvest which will include all believers at the final resurrection.
            The Gospel is the beginning of Luke's great sermon “on the plain.”  It shares some of the beatitudes with Matthew's more famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5‑7), but adds curses for those who trust in riches and power.  Luke's Gentile audience probably included wealthy people who, unlike the Jews, had no tradition of almsgiving and care for the poor.  They especially need to hear Jesus’ blessings for the poor and persecuted and his woes cursing the rich and contented.
            These two groups are the same ones described in Jeremiah’s wisdom saying.  The blessed are those who acknowledge their dependence upon God: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, those hated, insulted, and denounced as evil on account of Jesus, the Son of Man. They are the ones Jesus is gathering in his ministry (see Lk 4:18‑19).  He assures them: “rejoice and exult, for your reward shall be great in heaven.”  In sharp contrast to these dependent ones, the cursed are those whose contentment with wealth, physical comforts, and worldly renown has caused them to settle for the kingdom of this world. They have their consolation now, but at the judgment they “will grieve and weep.”

            Luke's blessings and curses are worded in the second person plural: “Blest are you poor” . . . “But woe to you rich.”  We need to ask ourselves, to which group do we belong?  If we are in physical and spiritual need and are suffering for the cause of the gospel, Jesus’ words give us hope for ultimate happiness in heaven.  If we are wealthy, content, and well received by the powers of this world, we have already received our reward.