But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Proverbs 4:18)
Happy 6th Week of Ordinary Time! Our responsorial Psalm today is Psalm 1, one of my favorite Psalms. It is brief, but clearly distinguishes the life of the ‘blessed one’ from the life of the ‘wicked one’.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.
But not so are the wicked, not so!
They are like chaff driven by the wind.
Therefore the wicked will not arise at the judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
Because the Lord knows the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
We find that same contrast of the ‘blessed one’ and ‘wicked, or cursed one’ in our first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord…Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings.”
And so, it is simple, but not simplistic, to say that there are two basic trajectories in this life: entrusting our lives to God, or trusting in ourselves, “in human beings”.
A prosperous London publisher was having a conversation with GK Chesterton when the publisher admiringly pointed out a man and said, “That man will get on [in the world], because he believes in himself.” Chesterton replied, “Those who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” He further reflected that “complete self-confidence” is a sin and a weakness.
We live in a time where it is easy to trust in ourselves and find our security and identity in the things of our modern world: advanced medicine, technology, wealth, endless entertainment, international travel, etc. We have everything imaginable, all that we need. Or do we? Could it be that our world of abundance, comfort and convenience has generated a culture of indifference and complacency toward God? Why should we need God when we can rely on ourselves? Have we duped ourselves into thinking God is not really that important or needed? Or have we attempted to live a “mixed life” with one foot in the boat (the Kingdom) and the other on the dock (the world). That may work briefly, but the time will come when the boat moves out, necessitating a decision.
Today’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Plain, provides a glance into the virtuous character of those who Jesus calls ‘blessed’: They are poor, recognizing their need for God. They are hungry, having an appetite for God. They weep, empathizing with suffering and lost souls. They humbly recognize their need for God and trust in him, in the face of being hated, insulted, and denounced as evil.
Then there are those to whom Jesus simply says, “Woe to you.” These are those who entrust themselves to riches, full bellies, laughter, and having a good reputation. Without belaboring this, it doesn’t mean the blessed should be without financial resources, adequate nutrition, the joy of laughter, and a reputation above reproach. It means that the blessed do not place their trust in these things.
Our pilgrimage to God is a lifelong progression that we, in part, shape by the daily entrusting of ourselves to God. And so, we pray with St. Paul that “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”