Reflections on the Lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. Where do you put your faith? What causes us as humans to prosper?
Humans, especially Christians, are rightly concerned with the issues of human flourishing. God’s creation was good before sin came, bringing death with it. In Christ, though, death’s power has been curtailed and sin has been judged in the flesh. In light of Christ’s victory, humans can flourish on the earth, showing the kingdom to those outside of God’s family now in the way that we live. Jesus, the prophets, and the psalmists are concerned with living the human life properly, based on obedience and trust in the Lord. We’ll unpack this over the four readings.
But first, we must look at where we mistakenly place our faith.
For all of history, humankind has been tempted to place their faith in systems, people, and human government. In recent memory, Americans, even American Christians, have placed their faith in political systems. Both Jeremiah and David bring dire warnings about placing our faith in the flesh rather than in the Lord. Human beings are fallible, subject to death in the flesh. They can bring no permanent fixes to either temporary or eternal problems on their own. Quite simply, humans by themselves are not prepared to deal with the issue of sin, or its manifestations in war, poverty, social injustices (such as racism or sexism), or any other issue plaguing societies. They, too, need to turn to the Triune God for answers. Why turn to those who themselves have to turn to the Lord anyway? We know our own sins (and are reminded of the woes Jesus pronounces when we trust ourselves and our own resources), so why wouldn’t we assume that those leaders we trust sin in similar ways?
But Jeremiah points out a deeper issue at the root of this misplaced trust. When we place our trust in humans, we turn away from the Lord. Paul brings us back to the proper posture: worship of the risen one, Jesus, who will turn every kingdom of the world over to his Father at the end of time. Paul makes an interesting claim: it would be useless to worship Jesus had he not risen! If we couldn’t worship Jesus, who lived the perfect life, had he not risen, why would we worship those who have lived clearly imperfect lives?
But the Bible is also chock-full of different ways for humankind to flourish in light of King Jesus. This week’s Lectionary readings cover many different ways for humans to prosper, from general benefits that come from trusting the Lord to specific benefits for different seasons of life.
Both Jeremiah and David offer general commendations for a new ways of life rooted in trust in the Lord and in meditation on the Scriptures. Both use the same major symbol: a tree planted by water. You don’t have to be a botanist to know that trees close to a water source are going to be stronger and more healthy than those in the middle of a desert, with no water source. Both trust in the Lord and meditating on the Scriptures make us, effectively, like the tree. Why?
When we trust in the Lord, we start to move away from our natural fears and anxieties. Jeremiah says that we needn’t fear when the heat comes. Our natural inclination when problems arise is to succumb to fear and forget the Lord’s promises to us. But when we hold fast to our trust, we no longer need to be afraid because we trust in the one who raised Christ from the dead by his Spirit. We can also be less anxious in “times of drought”. Everybody knows, to a relative extent, what it means to have lack at times. When we trust in the Lord, though, we remember that he gave us his Son and will also give us every good thing.
David shows us the general blessings of meditating on the Scriptures. One major blessing is that knowing the Scriptures well keeps us out of the way of sinners. The more we know the Scriptures, the more we understand the mind of Christ. We’ll be far more able and willing to call out sin and separate ourselves from it when we are tempted to participate in it. Because we are free, in the Spirit, to walk away from sin, identifying it more readily and easily through the Scriptures, we keep ourselves out of judgment. The Lord will instead know our paths and guide and direct us in them.
If those are more general pronouncements of blessing, Jesus, in the so-called Sermon on the Plains, offers more specific blessings. Those who are poor, hungry, oppressed and weeping, now are blessed in the kingdom. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and found among the outcast and those who have been marginalized. In this, the poor and hungry are blessed. But the Kingdom does not simply bring spiritual prosperity. When we are baptized into the Kingdom, we become parts of Christ’s Body, the Church. The Church has a responsibility to help meet the needs of the marginalized and oppressed, another blessing to them.
We are tempted in every direction to live life according to the world’s standards of human flourishing. Let us pray to have ears to hear what the Spirit says to us through Jeremiah, Paul, David, and Jesus and live in trust to the Lord. Only in trusting in the Triune God can we as humans truly flourish in his kingdom.