February 10, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Brian Pizzalato *

First Reading – Jer. 17:5-8
Responsorial Psalm – Ps. 1:1-4, 6
Second Reading – 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20
Gospel Reading – Lk. 6:17, 20-26

The overarching theme in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for this Sunday is that of blessings and curses. In the reading from the Gospel of Luke, the curses are represented by the four “woe” sayings. In that passage, Jesus pronounces four covenant blessings and four covenant curses.

We may be accustomed to the language of blessings, but the language of curses might seem a bit strange to us. Nevertheless, we should clearly understand that, because we have entered into the covenant family of God through the new and everlasting covenant Christ established, we have the potential to receive blessings for keeping the covenant or curses for breaking the covenant. Throughout salvation history, blessings and curses have been associated with the covenant.

This is seen clearly, for example, in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses says, “And if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Dt 28:1-2) Moses goes on to say, “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all the curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Dt 28:15) We understand that this is in the context of a covenant when we read: “These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab…” (Dt 29:1a)

Even with the promise of being blessed and doom of being cursed, Israel frequently disobeyed the Lord and placed themselves under the curse.

Lest we think that this is only an Old Testament way of thinking, we are encountered at different turns in the life and ministry of Jesus with the notion of blessing and curse. First, in this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, there are the blessings and curses. Second, in Matthew we have the eight Beatitudes (blessings), as well as seven curses mentioned. (Mt 5:3-12, 23:13-36)

Curses are none other than the consequences of sin. Mortal sins separate us from God by our own free choice. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.” (CCC 1855) Here we even have mention of God himself being our ultimate blessing.

Now let’s consider the reading from the Gospel of Luke. The blessings and curses parallel one another. Consider the following chart:


Woes (curses)

Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.

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.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.


Catholic Scripture scholar Tim Gray, in his book, Mission of the Messiah, notes: “Jesus takes the world’s conception of what leads to happiness – riches, well-being, fame, and power – and turns it on its head. The more one pursues these things for the sake of happiness, paradoxically, the farther one will be from genuine happiness. Jesus’ blessings and woes put the contrast between earthly and heavenly wisdom is stark focus. Why does Jesus seem to say that earthly goods are not sources of blessing? Because, as St. Thomas keenly observed, ‘God alone satisfies.’ The beatitudes are radical because Jesus is giving a radical redefinition of what leads to happiness. The things of this world are not sufficient to satisfy the human heart. Only God can bring the fulfilling happiness for which we who are spiritually poor hunger.” (p 65)

This is precisely why the prophet Jeremiah says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings…Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in 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.” (Jer 17:5, 7-8)

When we hope and trust in the Lord, when we remain faithful and obedient to the covenant, we will be divinely sustained as we pass through the trials and tribulations of life. In the trails of life we must pray as the Psalmist: “Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel men. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust…” (Ps 7:14-5)

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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