Holy Spirit

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A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 17:5-8
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 1:1-4. 6. R/. Ps 39:5
A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
15:12. 16-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
6:17. 20-26
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There is much housework and tidying up to be done if we are to be enriched by the Lectionary readings proclaimed to us in our celebration today of the Lord’s Supper.
First, there is the question of inclusive language. In the reading from the prophet Jeremiah and in the Responsorial Psalm we are confronted by male language. The very first line,
Cursed is the man who put his trust in man,
is contrasted with
Blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.
The Hebrew and the Greek have very different emphases. The Hebrew uses explicitly male language whereas the Greek lends itself to an inclusive translation. The Hebrew uses geber, which forms the basis of the name Gabri’el, the angel who appeared to the prophet Dani’el (Daniel 8:16 and 9:21) and, of course, to Mary (Luke 1:26). The name Gabri’el means “man of God”, (and, I most report that in the Bible angels are always men). When Moses demands of Pharaoh that the young and old be permitted to leave Egypt, Pharaoh insists that “only the menfolk among you” will be permitted to depart (Exodus 10:11). The word here is geberim, meaning “men”. On the other hand, the Greek text uses anthrōpos and that means “a human being”. So Jeremiah’s lines could be translated as,
Cursed is the one whose trusts in human beings.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.
Ought we to tidy up the Bible and translate, not according to the language used in the Bible, but update it to fit in with our inclusive sensitivities? Or ought we to be aware that previous generations gave no thought to the matter and employed male language as a matter of careless routine? We know that the Bible comes from patriarchal societies and that left deep marks. But the earliest Christian writings, that is, the letters of St Paul, are free from gender discrimination to a remarkable degree. After all, Paul does have Phoebe as deacon of the community of at Cenchreae, one of the house-churches of Corinth. And he has Junia, an apostle in Rome, a woman who was an apostle even before Paul received his calling on the Damascus road (see Romans 16:7 - and beware of attempts to disguise the plain meaning of Paul’s words).
Secondly, a piece of tidying up that is equally fraught with contention comes again in the reading from Jeremiah, and from the Responsorial Psalm, and from the Gospel. Consider these lines:
A blessing on the man
who puts his trust in the LORD.
Jeremiah 17:7 in The Jerusalem Bible.
Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked.
Psalm 1:1 in the Jerusalem Bible.
How happy are you who are poor;
Yours is the kingdom of God.
Luke 6:20 in the Jerusalem Bible.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Luke 6:20 in the English Standard Version.
What ought to concern us here is whether the one who trusts in the LORD is blessed or is happy. Likewise, are the poor blessed or are they happy? The Greek word makarios means happy, blessed, even rich.1 This is not simply a question of translation. It is a question of which translation best reflects the teaching of Scripture. Which translation best reflects the mind of God, insofar as we can know the mind of God? There are many, too many people, in our world who are poor and are certainly not happy. Does that mean they are not blessed? Does that mean that God has withdrawn his blessing from them because they are poor?
What is certain is that the Bible presents abundant, indeed, overwhelming evidence that the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable are God’s special concern:
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart;
you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.
Ps 10:17
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
1 Those of a certain age may recall Archbishop Makarios.
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land
Psalm 68:5-6
… the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth
Psalm 78:8-9
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God …
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down …
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
Psalm 146:5-9
And from that stern upholder of God’s Torah, God’s recipe for The Imitation of God on earth as it is in heaven, we have a profound description of the very heart of God:
For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18
Even in their sins, in their abandonment of faith in God, God did not abandon the exiled and impoverished people of Israel. Reflect for a moment on the beauty and wonder of Isaiah’s vision of God:
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion
on the child of her womb?
Though she might forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…
Isaiah 49:13-16
No matter what disasters might befall God’s people, there was a consistent hope that the God of steadfast love would not abandon them. Hope was always rooted in the very nature of God:
In that day, declares the LORD,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off,
a strong nation;
and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion
from this time forth and forevermore …
Micah 4:6-7
I think that “happy” will not do to describe God’s concerns and God’s capacity to save the poor and needy from their suffering. The poor are blessed, not because they are good, but because they are poor. It is Luke who bluntly proclaims the very words of Jesus:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Luke 6:20-21
“Happy” doesn’t quite cut it.2
We were a Church that warned its people not to read the Bible, the Protestant book that “they” read. But we had no truck with such things. One ancient synod of the English bishops refused to allow the Bible to be translated into English because it “would be casting perils before swine”. Guess who the swine were. We are, however, beginning to catch up and now have many English translations to choose from. We must remember that no translation comes without a theological slant, a bias toward this way or that way of thinking about God, about Jesus, about Church, about local churches, about ministries, even about authority, about ministries. There is no such thing as a neutral, unbiased translation.
2 I will return to this matter further when we come to today’s Gospel reading.
A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 17:5-8
Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
The word of the LORD.
Jeremiah presents a stark contrast. The person who turns away from God and puts hopes and expectations in a human basket will prosper as a shrub in the desert coping with sand and salt. Jeremiah hints at what happens when one turns to worship gods of one’s own creation, gods such as riches. A sentence or two after today’s reading is very apt when we are confronted by Jesus in today’s Gospel:
Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay,
so is one who amasses wealth by unjust means;
in the middle of his life it will leave him,
and in the end he will be proved a fool.
Jeremiah 17:113
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 1:1-4. 6. R/. Ps 39:5
R/. Blessed are those who put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the one
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but delights in the law of the LORD,
and meditates on that law day and night. R/.
Such a one is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither. R/.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
R/. Blessed are those who put their trust in the LORD.
Read and pray Psalm 1 with great care and deep humility. For this psalm is not accidentally placed first in this book of Jewish prayers. It is where it is because it is
3 This quotation is taken from The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
an introduction to the whole collection of prayers we call the Psalter. It is, as it were, an overture that that announces a theme that runs through the whole book of psalms. It proclaims that obedience is the key to life lived in God. There is a life lived in conformity with God’s purposes or there is another life. It is “the life of the wicked”. There is choice. Live in accord with God’s Torah, God’s teaching and direction, and be blessed. Otherwise one shall never stand “in the congregation of the righteous”.
Read and pray Psalm 150. Then you will come to know where your prayer, your praise, and your life is going:
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
15:12. 16-20
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
The Word of the LORD.
The very heart of what Paul calls “the gospel of God” in the very first sentence of his letter to Roman Christians (Romans 1:1) is that God raised Jesus from among the dead. In Romans 2:16 he calls God’s gospel “my gospel” so certain is he that what he taught was precisely what God had given to the world in Christ Jesus.
Paul uses the work “raises” 17 times in chapter 15. But the emphasis is not on the fact the Jesus is raised from the dead. It is on the fact that the raising of Jesus from among the dead is indelibly and irrevocably bound up with the glorious prospect that Christians will be raised from among the dead. What is proclaimed in today’s words from St Paul is beyond dispute:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 1 Corinthians 15:12
Unfortunately Paul’s argument at this point is abbreviated in our Lectionary and some sentences omitted, including this:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
I Corinthians 15:13-14
Confirmation that the resurrection of Jesus and humanity’s resurrection is at the heart of Paul’s letter to Roman Christians:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized
into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:3-5
The destiny of creation is its perfection. Humanity is to be brought to the fullness of its potential and, in the Bible’s language, to come to the glory of God.
Our suffering may be lived in tandem with the sufferings of Christ. God will thus see us as God sees the Son. We can, therefore, be assured that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”. Thus living the life of Christ, sharing the death of Christ, means sharing the glory that has come to the Son. This is what Paul declares:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our
sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5
To be baptised into Christ, to be “in Christ”, is to be with him all the way to the glory of life everlasting.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
6:17. 20-26
[Jesus] came down with them [the Twelve] and stopped at a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
The Gospel of the LORD.
Everything in today’s Gospel reading speaks loudly of Luke. The portrait of Jesus we see is unmistakably St Luke’s. Every brush stroke emphasises Luke’s understanding of the man from Nazareth. To begin with, Jesus comes down the mountain. Not any mountain, for the mountain in Luke is where Jesus talks to God, where he prays, and where he makes decisions. As Luke explains,
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer. Luke 6:12
He was about to select the Twelve, an intimate band of disciples who were to undergo intensive preparation to be “witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
Sermon on the Plain
Then, coming down the mountain, “stood at a level place”. Why the detail - coming down, a level spot? A sentence from St Matthew provides an instructive contrast:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Matthew 5:1
These lines introduce Mathew’s Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes. Jesus goes up the mountain. The crowds have to climb to hear the words of the great teacher. Even his disciples have to come to him. There is a solemnity here, more than a hint of Moses on Mount Sinai handing down the word of God.
Not so in Luke. Jesus comes down from his place of prayer to where the people are, down on the plain, not on the mountain. He comes down to them where they are. This is Luke’s Jesus. He does not stay aloft. He comes down to where people are and he comes to them because they are in need of healing. Jesus comes from God to be with people wherever and whoever they are. To understand Luke’s Gospel it is necessary to be aware that Matthew presents a Sermon on the Mount. Luke challenges his readers with a Sermon on the Plain.
A great multitude people…
Notice who it is who came to hear him, who came to be healed:
…a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were healed. And all the
crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
Luke 6:17-19
There are Jews in this crowd from Jerusalem and from all over Judea. But there were pagans, too, from Tyre and Sidon. But all of them come for one reason: to be healed of their diseases. And they were healed, all of them.
We do well to remember the churches for which Luke wrote. His experience was, as far as we know, of the churches in Asia Minor, the churches founded by St Paul. These were mainly Gentile communities and they were not, for the most part, wealthy or powerful. They were churches of the poor, of slaves and ex-slaves, of outcasts, of the has-beens and the never-weres. Luke wrote for these people and those who heard his story will have recognised themselves on every page, even from the very beginning of the story:
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Luke 1:53
Blessings and Woes
There are three blessings: for the poor, for hungry, and for those who weep. Luke’s blessings are not for “the poor in spirit”. They are, indeed, not for religious people at all. They are for those who are far too busy trying to keep body and soul together. They are for those who found their way into a strange new religion that spoke to them and for them. They were for those who were attracted to
the story of a man from a hole-in-the-wall place called Nazareth, a man who lived surrounded by the sick and the infirm, who mingled with sinners, who knew poverty, and who declared that he himself was no more than a slave of God, indeed, a slave of all.
What Luke means is that the poor, the hungry, and those who weep are those who must be God’s concern. If all that we read in the pages of the prophets is true, then that God who so often insisted that his passion is for justice, must come to right the wrongs and to insist that the unlovable are truly loved. Those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and cast out are given the most precious of all gifts: hope. They are destined to be with God.
Not so the rich: they have enjoyed their rewards. Not so those who are full of the good things of life: they shall endure days of hunger. Not so those who have every reason to laugh away the cares of this world: they shall come to days of mourning and weeping.
What we must realise is that Luke is speaking only indirectly about the rich and comfortable. He is talking about wealth itself. Just as Jesus is not in favour of poverty, so he is not in favour of wealth. Luke is not giving the rich the opportunity of being “poor in spirit”. He is insisting that the only godly thing to do with wealth is to give it to the poor. The truly human life is the truly godly life:
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow
old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Luke 12:33-34
The point is that wealth can absorb your whole being making it impossible for your heart to hear the word of God or the cries of the poor. The teachings of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain are not the last words we will hear on the subject of wealth.
Joseph O’Hanlon