Have you ever spent time in a desert? A few times in my life when I went to the desert, I found it so totally different from here. Twice on trips to Arizona I had the brilliant idea to go for a run in the desert to, you know, get some exercise. I mean, I know it’s hot, but it’s not that hot right? I’ll be fine, I can do this. Alone. Twice.
One time, I brought a liter of water with me – that should be plenty. I got a short way into my run, looked at my water bottle and it was empty, finished. That was fast! I had to turn around and run back with no water. I made it but probably drank a gallon of water when I got back.
On a different trip, I thought I would do it again because it was so much fun the first time. I know, I’m not too bright; glad my mom is not here to hear this story. I figured I could go it alone again, bring some water and I will be fine. Well after almost stepping on a rattlesnake and running out of water again, I limped into some nearby hotel and had to beg for water just so I could make it back to my own hotel.
Relying only on myself I thought I could go it alone. The result? Woe and misery.
In the readings today we hear about those who try to go it alone like me, and those who rely on God to get through life to the promised joys of heaven. Luke tells us about the sermon on the plain where Jesus addresses his disciples and the crowd about those who are blessed and those who have coming woe. Let’s take a look.
First, the blessed. These are the people who go into the desert with God at their side, they bring plenty of water, and they will be rewarded. Jesus tells the disciples that those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping but who have God with them, will win in the end. Jesus says, “Your reward will be great in heaven.”
On the flip side, Jesus says woe to those who have amassed wealth without God, who gloat over their earthly accomplishments for they will weep because God does not know them, and they have lived a life by themselves and for themselves. Sounds a little like me in the desert.
So how does one fall into the woe category? Jesus tells us that it is when we go through life thinking we don’t need him, when work defines who we are, when we focus on climbing the ladder of success, when we only look out for #1. Maybe this is not a conscious decision or choice we make against God, but they are choices that put us in the woe category, nonetheless. Maybe though, we at one time were on the right path, but for whatever reason we have strayed off of it.
The reality is that we probably spend time in both categories. The pressures of this world push us out of the blessed life into woe. It sometimes happens to us quickly and we may not see it happening until we are already there. It is up to us to choose to get back to the blessed.
We are the ones who have to choose to make changes, to remember the path we were once on where God was a part of our life. Or maybe we have never felt like we were on that path with God, but it sounds pretty good! Maybe we need to make a choice not to define ourselves by the job we have, by our achievements we have gotten, or by the level of popularity we have. Maybe we need to define ourselves as part of something bigger, humbler, simpler.
We know that God put inside each of us this innate desire to do good, to help, and to do the right thing. That desire inside of us, that good inside of us… it is no coincidence that we all have it! That is God living in us because he sent the Holy Spirit to us at our Baptism.
So, what if that defined us instead? What if we let the good out, let the Holy Spirit out and let him take the wheel and guide our decisions and actions? What would be possible then? How would people describe us then?
Maybe they would describe us as blessed.
We heard the story from Jeremiah this morning of a tree planted in the desert. If I plant a tree next to a stream, its roots will grow towards the stream, so it has plenty of water. What Jeremiah is telling us in this story is that the tree needs water just like we need God. The water is God when Jeremiah said: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted besides the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of the drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
That sounds like a blessed life. That sounds like a life we all want doesn’t it?