The 6th sunday of the common year

The readings in today’s Sunday Mass (according to the NO in the Catholic Church) is Jer 17,5-8; 1Cor 15,12.16-20; and Luke 6,17.20-26. They all share a common thread; that we are to set our eyes at the Lord. The old testament text tells us, in the words of the RSV translation, that “cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” (v. 5) And: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” (v. 7) This reminds me of Psalm 1, here in my own (slightly loose) translation:

1 Blessed is the man that does not follow the advice of the wicked, nor walks the path of sinners, nor sits amongst the scornful; 2 but whose delight is the law of the LORD on which he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields fruit in its season, and whose leaves doesn’t wither. Everything he does shall prosper. 4 The wicked is not so: He is like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, and no sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish.[1]

The New Testament epistle tells us that if Christ hasn’t risen from the dead our hope is dead. Our faith is a joke. Empty. Meaningless. “But,” writes St. Paul, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1Cor 15,20) This message is the core of our Faith. Without it Christianity is either the dumbest or most evil religion ever. Because we aren’t dealing with some abstract ‘philosophy’ here; we are dealing with a man who claimed to be God. The Almighty Creator. Worthy of our worship. We aren’t dealing with a man claiming to be a fuzzy rabbit; we are dealing with a man claiming to be the Lion of Juda — and not merely a man.

Let’s take a look at today’s Gospel. I’ll quote it in full.

A reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke in the 6th chapter. Glory to you, Lord.

17 And he came down with them and stood on 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. … 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

How can Christ say this? The poor, those who hunger, those that weep; those who are hated, excluded and reviled for Christ’s sake. Those, says Christ, are truly blessed. In fact: they are happy! To explain what this means we have to take into consideration what happiness was for the antique man.

One of the greek words for ‘happiness’ — which aren’t used in the text in Luke, but which is related to the term used there — is εὐδαιμονία (eudaimonía).[2] This shouldn’t be translated as ‘happiness,’ as the latter often has the connotation of desire rather than something spiritual; it seems to denote luck, chance and ‘instant gratification.’ (Etymologically speaking — and etymology is a dangerous and tricky game to play — happiness derives from hap, meaning ‘chance, fortune.’ But this is very different from the old greek notion of happiness; a notion I believe is also found in the Bible.

As I point out, the word — which is often translated ‘happiness’ (or sometimes ‘flourishing’) — is εὐδαιμονία. This word consists of three parts: (1) εὐ, ‘good, well being’; (2) δαιμον, ‘spirit, minor deity’; and (3) the suffix -ία which denotes an act or a state.[3] Thus εὐδαιμονία (which will henceforth be translated ‘joy’) denotes a (lasting) state — and thus in contrast to ‘happiness,’ which (it seems to me) denotes something more ‘floating’ or ‘weak.’ In other words; joy is to be united to Christ.

If we are united to Him we can rejoice when we are poor; when we hunger; when weep; and when we are hated, excluded and reviled for His sake. For we aren’t made to stay here; we are made to be in communion with Him. To live in His presence. And that can only be achieved by our death and resurrection — from ourselves and to Him. Then, my dear friends, we know that our hope is fully alive. And that our faith is full of meaning. But for the wicked, who cast Christ away, life will be something else entirely. It will be devoid of God. Hell is the life of the wicked, the foolish. Their life will be “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, act 5, scene 5)

The tale of God, however is fully significant. We are to share the very life The life of God. And that is something to look forward too.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Notes:

[1] When I translate from Hebrew I use the standard text; Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. (Edited by K. Elliger & W. Rudolph. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1997.) I also use The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. (Orig. 1906. Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson. 12th Reprint, 2008)

[2] The term used in Luke is Μακάριοι (Makárioi); an adjective (in the nominal case). This is connected to the adjective explored in the text. But it seems like Μακάριος is more ‘divine’ or ‘heavenly,’ while εὐδαιμονία is perhaps more connected to that which is distinctly human. (See here and here.) For the sake of my argument I assume that what I say about εὐδαιμονία can also be said of the more ‘divine’ μακάριος.

[3] See for example: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Third edition. Revised and edited by Frederick William Danker. The University of Chicago Press 2000