GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...he also gives them a list of blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28.
Now, I’m not going to read it in full, and it isn’t the Old Testament reading for today (so there’s no parallel here), but I do think it’s important for us to understand the background because a lot of people are put off by Luke’s account of the beatitudes because they’re pretty harsh, especially when you add in the woes. What’s wrong with being rich? What’s wrong with eating a good meal? What’s wrong with laughing? What’s wrong with people praising you and saying good things about you? I mean, truly, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, and yet Jesus is pronouncing a curse on all those who are rich, all those who have full bellies (So, does that apply to you? Did you have a good meal last night?), all those who laugh, and all those who have good things said about them. So, what do we make of that?
Well I think if you go back to the Old Testament you’ll see. In Deuteronomy 28, let me just run a few verses by you real quick. In the Old Testament Moses gave a list of blessings and woes as well. He gave a list of blessings for obedience, and a list of woes (or curses) for disobedience. And listen to what it says.
And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God (this is Moses speaking to the Israelites), being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; and he will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you. The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and walk in his ways.
If you skip down to verse 11:
And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground, within the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.
Those are the blessings. So notice, what are we describing here? If you obey, you’re going to have lots of children, you’re going to have plentiful crops, you’re going to have abundant cattle, you’re going to have lots of money, you’re going to have good weather, (it goes on to say) you’re going to have peace in the land. Your enemies will be driven out and you will have peace and prosperity. So in the Old Testament, if you obey, what you get is earthly blessings. And they’re all good things. Fertility is good. Children are good. Cattle are good. They’re all made by God. Peace is good. Peace is better than war, prosperity is better than poverty. In the sense that in poverty, people get sick, they die, they suffer; there are all kinds of natural evils associated with that. So in the Old Testament, obedience brings earthly blessings. It brings natural blessings. By contrast, disobedience brings curses. And it says here, verse 15, Deuteronomy 28:
But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and frustration, in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your doings, because you have forsaken me.
And then it goes on, a long chapter, it’s a very long, very grim chapter (Deuteronomy 28) to basically lay out that if Israel disobeys God, they’re going to bring down upon themselves through their sin: infertility, famine, pestilence, poverty, war, and then eventually the worst of all the curses, is exile. They will end up being cast out of the land of Israel, the promise land; which is of course, if you know the Old Testament, exactly what ends up happening. So I bring this up because I want you to get the setting right. So Jesus is speaking to his Jewish disciples, he’s speaking to Jews in Galilee; they know the Torah, they know the Law of Moses, and what does the law of Moses say? If you obey, you get lots of food, lots of children, lots of joy and peace. If you disobey, you have poverty, pestilence, hunger, famine, war and then finally exile. Now with that background in mind, look again at the beatitudes in Luke. What is Jesus saying to his disciples in Luke 6? “Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry…Blessed are you who weep” and “blessed are you when men persecute you and exclude you and revile you. Rejoice on that day, for your reward is great”, where? “In Heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
And then he flips it and says, “Woe to you who are rich…who are full…who laugh” and “who are spoken well of.” In other words, who are at peace, who are not persecuted. So what has Jesus done? In my mind, what I think’s happening here is something very significant. In the new covenant, in the teaching of Jesus from this sermon, the blessings are the curses. That’s the thing. The blessings are the curses. We don’t think of it this way. In other words, the way you will build up treasure not on earth but in heaven, is precisely through suffering. It’s through poverty. It’s through hunger. It’s through mourning. And it’s ultimately, above all, through persecution for the sake of the gospel. It’s through persecution for the sake of the son of man. By contrast, earthly blessings in the new covenant are dangerous. They’re spiritually dangerous. So what is he saying here? “Woe to you that are rich”; think about what he says elsewhere in the gospel, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. So riches have the power to drag our hearts down from heaven and focus us on earthly goods. The same thing, “Woe to you that are full now”; well what’s the problem with getting a good meal? Well, because you can get self-satisfied with earthly goods and feel all sufficient, like you don’t need God. People who are starving to death know they need God. People who are hungry know how weak they are and how dependent they are on God; but the rich and the full can get very complacent, very quickly.
The same thing about those who are laughing now. Jesus isn’t condemning all laughter, he’s talking about people, in context, whose laughter is the kind of laughter that is based and rooted in earthly joy, that distracts them from the injustice in the world, but also distracts them ultimately from the goodness of the kingdom of God. What’s he saying? “You might be laughing now, but you’re going to mourn or weep if you miss out on the kingdom of heaven.” And then finally, “when all men speak well of you, so their fathers did to the false prophets.” So the false prophets were there, they were at peace, nobody was persecuting them, but it didn’t mean that they were right with God. It actually meant that they were lying and that they were acquiring peace through their falsehood and not through the grace and the gift of God. So he’s talking about the dangers that are inherent in earthly goods, and the fact that in the new covenant now the blessings are rooted in what appear to be curses.
Now whenever I teach this to my students sometimes there’s a negative reaction. People say, “Come on, that’s a little strong Dr. Pitre, wouldn’t you say? To say that in the new covenant the blessings are the curses and the curses are the blessings.” If it’s too strong then tell me why we have a crucifix at the center of every church. How did the ultimate blessing of blessings come to the world? How did the kingdom of heaven come to earth? It’s through the cross. It’s through a man who looks like he’s cursed. It’s through a man who is poor, who has nothing, who is mourning, who’s been stripped of everything, who’s been persecuted; he is the most blessed man of all.
And, in fact, if you look at the Greek word here, I keep saying “blessed”, but the Greek word that Luke uses is makarios, which actually doesn’t mean “blessed”, it means “happy”. The precise meaning of makarios is “someone who is happy”. So where do we find real happiness in the new covenant? It’s through detachment from earthly goods, detachment from earthly blessings, and through taking up the cross and following Christ. So in the very beginning here, in Luke chapter 6, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is already preaching the way of the cross, but he’s doing it under the form of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are not just some nice sayings about the attitudes we should have — although they do give us a window into what our attitude towards created goods and earthly goods should be. At the same time, they’re not simple, nice little phrases; they are explosive. They are a powerful challenge to every one of us about the way of the cross, and Jesus is going to talk more about that as we move through the Gospel of Luke. Unless you take up your cross daily and follow me, you can’t be my disciple. That’s the way of the cross that Jesus is laying out here.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...when Paul says:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead…
…he’s alluding to the tradition that he’s just mentioned earlier in chapter 15 — the Gospel, the Good News that he received and he handed onto the Corinthians — that Christ died, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. So what Paul is doing is he’s starting from the foundational belief of the bodily resurrection of Jesus on the third day — which apparently, the Corinthians accept. They don’t seem to have a problem with Christ’s resurrection from the dead. They accept that that is being preached, that it’s part of the apostolic tradition.
However, some of them are apparently saying there is no resurrection of the dead, meaning that they are denying the final resurrection of all of the rest of humanity on the last day. So this might seem a little strange, but we can understand it from a couple of perspectives.
First, remember that Paul is writing the letter to the Corinthians largely to people who are ex-pagans. So in the pagan world, there were many different views of the afterlife, of what happened after a person dies. Most of them — although you can’t ever say any one thing about paganism, it’s very diverse. Most of them tended to see death as the escape of the soul or the spirit from the body, a kind of liberation of the soul from the body. It was actually one ancient pagan Greek expression called soma sema
— the body is a tomb. So it’s a very negative view of the human body and if there were any view of salvation at all — although that’s even stretching it. It’s taking a Jewish term and applying it to a pagan mindset. It was in the fact that the soul and spirit would escape from the body.
So the Jewish, by contrast, the Jewish idea of a resurrected body of the soul or spirit being reunited with the body and that salvation consisted primarily in that reunification of soul and body so that the body and soul would live forever in a restored creation and a restored universe, like in Isaiah 26, Isaiah 64-66.
This was very foreign to the pagan worldview or pagan understandings of the afterlife. So although some people apparently could wrap their brains around the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead — He’s divine, He’s the Son of God, that kind of thing — they were struggling with the idea that other human beings, that the rest of humanity, that the Church, that the Corinthians themself would one day be raised from the dead. So they were denying that article of faith.
And so Paul responds to that doubt by arguing with them from Christ’s resurrection to their own. And in this case, it’s a little unfortunate — maybe a lot unfortunate — that the lectionary skips the intervening verses between 12 through 16, because that’s where he makes that argument. So I’m going to revisit that just so you can see clearly how it flows. So the beginning when Paul says:
… how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
In verse 13, which isn’t in the lectionary but is in 1 Corinthians, says this:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
Alright, so pause there. So you see it’s a little clear. The logic is a little clearer here in the intervening verses. He’s saying if there’s no resurrection of the dead — meaning of all the dead — then that means Christ hasn’t been raised. And if Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is in vain. And the Gospel isn’t true.
So he’s reasoning backward from the end of time to Easter Sunday in order to make the case for our own resurrection. And I think it’s worth pausing to emphasize that you don’t have to be a formerly pagan Corinthian to have doubts about our bodily resurrection at the end of time.
I’ve noticed over many years of teaching now that whereas students will often be very clear about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, when it comes to our own resurrection at the end of time, they often seem a bit more fuzzy. There’s a tendency, especially in western Christianity, to reduce eternal life to the immortality of the soul and the Beatific Vision. And although it is certainly true that in the New Testament, as well as in the Catholic tradition, the souls of the righteous who enter into Heaven, experience the salvation and joy of the Beatific Vision even as souls… even though they don’t yet have their bodies.
But it’s equally important to remember that also according to the New Testament and according to the Catholic tradition, the souls in Heaven who see God face to face now are still waiting for the reunification of their bodies and souls at the end of time in the final resurrection of the dead. This is one of the articles of faith in the Creed:
I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
There’s still this outstanding resurrection that has to take place on the final day. That’s what the Corinthians are struggling with and that’s what Paul is using the bodily resurrection of Christ to argue in favor of, to kind of lead them logically step by step to the truth of their own resurrection. Because he says here — and this is where the lectionary picks up:
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised…
And here is the key:
… your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
So he’s trying to help them see that when you deny one article of faith (like the resurrection of the dead at the end of time), it actually affects the other articles of faith, like the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
And sure enough, in my own experience over the years, whenever I meet students or I talk with people who don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead at the end of the time or they’re weak on that, if you press into it, you’ll often find that their understanding of Christ’s resurrection is weak. They’ll sometimes think of it as a kind of spiritual resurrection, or they won’t be really clear on the corporeal nature of His resurrection… and vice versa. If you spiritualize the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, then you’re going to end up… it’s going to end up affecting the way you understand or conceptualize our resurrection at the end of time. So people will often just dispense with the idea of a bodily resurrection of all humanity at the end and talk about salvation in purely immaterial, spiritual terms, without any reference to the reunion of the body and the soul for all time in a new creation, in a new heavens and a new earth.
So this is a very important passage on eschatology. And what Paul is essentially saying here is that if you deny the article of faith in the resurrection of the dead, you end up denying the resurrection of Christ. And if you deny the resurrection of Christ, you actually undermine the faith itself, because you haven’t been saved from your sins.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
In other words, Christians who have already died, then they’ve perished … which was a widespread pagan view, that once you die, it’s over. It’s just darkness, emptiness, and nothingness. You cease to exist.
That’s not the Jewish view, and it’s certainly not the Christian view. But it is
, what Paul says, will be the case if the resurrection either of the dead or the resurrection of Christ is not true. So this is a powerful, powerful argument for the essential character, the essential nature of the truth of Christ’s resurrection and our bodily resurrection at the end of time. Because as Paul says:
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
There’s a famous early 20th century Jesuit Biblical scholar, Fr. Ferdinand Prat — he was a French scholar. And he wrote a book on the theology of Paul, and he summed this up really well. He says what Paul is essentially saying is this:
If there is no resurrection, then Christianity is a lie.
Full stop. The whole thing is a lie. The whole thing is a sham. You can’t be a Christian and have some doubts about the resurrection or deny the resurrection, either of Christ or at the end of time. It’s all of a piece. Because the essence of the Good News, as Paul says earlier in the chapter, is not just that Christ died for our sins. It’s not just that He was buried, that He on the third day rose again and appeared to many in His body.
So, once Paul finishes that rhetorical argument, he of course wants to end not with the error but with the truth — always a good idea. Don’t just teach… don’t just inform people about erroneous ideas, but tell them what the truth is. So he ends with the truth by saying:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
And here Paul uses an image that would have been familiar not just to Jews but also to pagans...
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