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Posted by on Feb 13, 2022

Like a Tree Planted Beside the Waters

Like a Tree Planted Beside the Waters

The readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time lay out a series of contrasting images. Jeremiah (17:5-8) speaks of the contrast between those who trust in human beings and those who trust in the Lord. Those who trust in human strength and turn from the Lord are like plants in the desert wasteland that bear no fruit and never see the coming of fertile soil and springtime. On the other hand, those who trust in the Lord are like trees planted beside streams of water. These are not harmed when the heat of summer comes or times of drought. They are still able to bear fruit.

As I read these words, I remember the orchards in the Okanogan Valley of Washington State where family friends lived. We spent many days there with our friends throughout my childhood. I worked in the orchard of a neighbor, thinning apples in early summer, to earn the money for a Girl Scout trip to San Francisco when I was in high school. The Okanogan Valley is on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. It’s a dry land, with sage brush covered hills. Yet beside the river, the orchards grow. Along the tops of the hills, there were channels built through which water from the river was diverted and flowed. We called them flumes. The orchardists opened the flumes to allow the water to flow down and irrigate their trees. Those trees produced abundant crops year after year. It didn’t matter that the weather was hot and dry in summer or cold and snowy in winter. The trees nearest the river didn’t need the irrigation water. The others got their water from the river too, but with help from the orchardists.

Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord is like the water that nourishes the trees, so long as we stay close in both good times and hard times.

Jesus too speaks of contrasting realities to a large crowd of disciples who gathered on a plain to hear his teaching (Lk 6:17, 20-26). His focus is particularly direct. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” In Luke’s gospel, the words are not softened. He’s not saying poor in spirit here. He’s saying poor. Similarly, he says hungry and weeping in describing those who are blessed. In each case, they are blessed because they will receive what is needed. Even those who are persecuted, hated, and insulted are to rejoice, because the Son of Man (Jesus) was treated the same way.

These are hard words, especially for those of us who are not poor, hungry, weeping, or being insulted for our actions and beliefs. The next section, in which Jesus speaks of those who are rich and have all they need for “the good life” now compounds the discomfort. Those who have it easy right now will find that hard times will come to them. This certainly doesn’t seem to be the case when we look around our world today.

Yet Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, everything is turned on its head, because God cares as much for the poor as for the rich, for children as for adults, for peasants as for kings. In many ways, those who are least able to fend for themselves are more precious, because they are more aware of their need for help. They can be more open to receiving the gifts that really satisfy our deepest human needs and bring joy.

Those who work for social justice, sharing what they have and living more simply are less likely to receive praise and honor from those who have much and wield power in our world. Jesus cautions against seeking or becoming comfortable with the praise of others, because all too often it was the false prophets who led the nation astray, away from their covenant with the Lord. The Kingdom is not about pleasing the rich and powerful. It’s about caring for each other, especially for those who cannot care for themselves.

St. Paul too speaks of contrasting groups of people (1 Cor 15:12, 16-20). For him, the issue is the resurrection of the dead. Some people were arguing that ordinary people would not rise from the dead. Only Jesus did that. But Paul is firm on the issue. If there is no resurrection, Christ could not have been raised either. If Christ is not raised, then their baptism meant nothing. They are still bound by sin and death. If that is the case, then it’s foolish to live as a Christian. Why not just live like everybody else? Why be fools?

Paul states very clearly his belief and that of the Christian community, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” in death. Firstfruits are the best and first products of the land. These were the gifts offered to God in thanksgiving for the harvest. The Risen Christ is the first, and we are the rest of the harvest, rising with him in turn.

So, paraphrasing the psalmist, blessed are they who hope in the Lord, who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night. Those who stick close to the Lord, like a tree growing near the river, will bear fruit for the Lord. And the Lord will watch over them and the Kingdom of God will be theirs.

Today let’s pray that we have the courage to be among the blessed, to sink our roots deep into the water of the Lord’s love and support as we reach out in service to those in need of love, acceptance, and help in our families, communities, and world. It’s all too easy to look at others who have less than we do and judge them unworthy of our respect and help. As we reach out in service, we discover the depth of faith and trust in the Lord that comes from truly depending on him for the basics of life.

How is the Lord calling me to service today? Will I go forward without worrying what others will think of me? Will I see the blessed among us and be part of the Kingdom with them? Will I let my roots go deep?

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