Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: PLANTED NEAR WATER
By: Fr. Gerald Musa
Homily for Sunday, February 17 2019
When I read about the biblical tree planted near running waters, two things come to my mind. First, I remember the flowers I planted a year ago and they were not growing as fast as I desired. I observed their slow growth was because they were in a position, under a roof, where rainfall hardly touches them. I decided to install a water pump and used it in watering them. The flowers got water more frequently and became refreshed. Secondly, the biblical plant near running waters reminds me of agricultural irrigation in northern Nigeria, especially in Malumfashi, Zaria, and Argungu where dry season farming is very common in the cultivation of vegetables and other crops such as cabbages, tomatoes, capsicum, (tattasai), carrots, sugarcane, rice and so on. Here, farmers use water canals, dams, water reservoirs from which the waters run into the farm ridges.
It was the prophet Jeremiah who uses the imagery of a tree besides running waters to describe a blessed person (Jeremiah 17:5-8). According to him, a blessed person is one who trust in the Lord and who is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. On a different note, the prophet describes a cursed person as someone who turns away from the Lord, as a shrub in the desert, in the parched places of the wilderness and in an uninhabited salt land.
Likewise, the Psalmist says, a blessed person is one who takes delight in the law of the Lord and meditates on the law day and night. He compares the blessed person to a tree that is planted by streams of water, which yields its fruits in season and whose leaf does not wither (cf. Psalm 1:1-3). On the contrary, the Psalmist says the wicked (cursed) person is like winnowed chaff that is driven by the wind.
It is interesting to see how Jesus shocked his listeners when he turned the standard of the world upside down in re-defining the meaning of blessedness. He says those who are truly blessed are the poor, the hungry, the hated and persecuted (Luke 6:17, 20-26). These are like trees planted besides running waters. Conversely, He says cursed are the rich, the satisfied, those who enjoy laughter now and those who enjoy the praises of sycophants.
Make no mistake about it! When Jesus talks about the poor he means those who place their trust in God and those who have a childlike trust in God. Moreover, the poor are those who detach themselves from materialism in order to establish a deep relationship with God. Unlike the poor, the rich are those who are never contented with what they have and who look for every avenue to grab more and more, by hook or crook. They are like Dives who was insensitive to the plight of the needy around him. I wish to recall the words of a famous American preacher who says, “We are rich in the things that perish, but poor in the things of the spirit. We are rich in gadgets, but poor in faith. We are rich in goods, but poor in grace. We are rich in know-how, but poor in character. We are rich in words, but poor in deeds.”
It is not a sin to be materially rich, nor is it a virtue to be materially poor. After all, Abraham was a wealthy man, but had an unshakeable faith in God. He was ready to offer everything including his son to God. The story of the unforgiving servant tells us about a poor servant who was wicked to his fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35). This servant’s material poverty was made worse by his wicked heart. However, there are materially poor people who commanded respect and were dignified by God. For example, Jesus identified a poor and honourable person in the poor widow who was radically generously (Matthew 12:41-44). Similarly, the book of Ecclesiastes speaks about an unknown honourable poor man who though poor, was wise, and he delivered a city through his wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15).
In addition, Jesus speaks about the hunger that leads to happiness, which is the hunger for righteousness, virtue, purity, as well as the hunger for the word of God and for the bread of life. He says those who weep are blessed. These are people who suffer brokenness of heart over the affliction and sorrows of others and have a deep sense of empathy. Jesus showed this kind of empathy when he was deeply moved in spirit at the death of Lazarus. He wept (John 11:33, 35). More still, He wept over Jerusalem for their stubborn hearts (Matthew 23:37).
Furthermore, Jesus considers those who are hated and persecuted as blessed. He showed us a perfect example, while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). An early Christian writer perfectly describes the gentle response of Christians towards persecution. The writer says: “They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are dishonored, and their dishonor becomes their glory. They are reviled, and are justified. They are abused, and they bless. They are insulted, and repay insult with honor. They do good, and are punished as evildoers; and in their punishment they rejoice as gaining new life therein. The Jews war against them as aliens, and the Greeks persecute them; and they that hate them can state no ground for their enmity.”
Therefore, let us walk on the path of blessedness and happiness, which the Prophet, the Psalmist and Jesus show us. Let us be like that tree planted by running water which is never destroyed by winter, hotness, dryness and drought. This tree is a symbol of a person who is poor in spirit, who hungers and thirst for righteousness, who mourns over the affliction of others and who is hated and persecuted for his faith and good works.
6th Sunday of the Year C