“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength…Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”
So, says the prophet Jeremiah, who seems to suggest that we have a choice of being cursed or blessed, which, it seems to me, is a strange way of speaking. For as I reflect on life, my life, much, most of it that has a bearing on whether or not I feel cursed or blessed is beyond my control.
The patterns and movements of natural events, like the weather and the climate and aging are beyond my power to command and to choose…
The polities and policies of societies, governments, and institutions are beyond my power to command and to choose…
The attitudes and actions of everyone around me, family and friends, acquaintances and strangers, you are beyond my power to command and to choose…
All of which, all of whom can and do affect me greatly, whether for good or ill, are beyond my power to command and to choose.
As all of this is true, all of the time, being, feeling blessed or cursed is less an issue of my choice and more a matter of my circumstance. And as I observe the ways and works of life in this world, that is, the way this world works, I tend to believe that folks who have material abundance or social prominence or both are blessed and cursed are those who don’t. Simple!
But my definitions are not the Bible’s definitions…
Jeremiah speaks of blessedness and cursedness…
Psalm 1 of righteousness and wickedness…
Jesus of blessings and woes.
All, especially Jesus, turn my definitions upside down, verily, discount them entirely. For those whom I call blessed are the very ones to whom Jesus cries: “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full, woe to you who are laughing, woe to you when all speak well of you.”
Jesus challenges not only my point of view, my perspective, but also, more painfully, my preferences. Truth is, I’ve yet to attain the lifestyle to which I’d love already to have become accustomed. I’d rather be “rich” with enough money for necessities and all the luxuries my heart desires. I’d rather be “full,” having my hungers, physical and emotional, always completely satisfied. I’d rather be “laughing,” knowing only pleasure, never pain. I’d rather have “all speak well” of me, enjoying the fullest measure of a good and unassailable reputation.
But, in response to all of my fervent desiring, Jesus, repeatedly, relentlessly, says, “Woe!”
The more I read and reflect on, wrestle with Jesus’ words, it seems to me that he and Jeremiah and the psalmist are talking about our values. In this, they intend more than some pious declaration, some holier-than-thou denunciation of the world’s bankrupt value system in which material possessions, personal gratification, and public adulation are the standard measures of worth. Rather the subject, their subject is our inward spiritual condition. Whether a state or existence of cursedness of which a false value system is only an outward symptom. Or a state or existence of blessedness of which a true value system is, sacramentally-speaking, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
If that’s it, then what is this true value system? A question I will answer with a question. A question I perceive at the heart of the teaching of Jesus, Jeremiah, and the psalmist: Who or what do we call “God”? Who is the one to whom, what is that thing to which we accord ultimate worth, supreme value?
Is it the God to whom we prayed, paraphrasing this morning’s Collect: “O God, our strength because we trust you and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us your grace that we, keeping your commandments, may please you in will and deed”?(1) Or is it someone or something else, someone or something less?
And the answer, our answer to that question, therefore, whether we are cursed or blessed, is a matter of our choice.
(1) Full text of the Collect for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany: O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.