(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 13)
Locks and keys are very helpful for securing things of value, whether they are people, buildings, cars or other things. When we misplace or lose a key it can be disconcerting; I speak from not infrequent experience.
We retrace our steps and all the places we have been since the last time we used the key. Once found, it is a great relief. Nowadays with electronic tags it is much less of an issue, however most of us know the experience. The relief that comes in finding the keys brings a renewed sense of how simple but valuable they are.
Keys are also used in our language in a metaphorical sense. In this way, the term is used to express something simple that helps us understanding or deal with something complex. Perhaps we might consider faith as the key to understanding the complexities of life. Jeremiah and Jesus both use contrast to explain that faith is the key to understand life — Jeremiah in general, and for Jesus, the complexities related to suffering.
Jeremiah, in the first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy, contrasts “the one who trusts in human beings” with the “one who trusts in the Lord.” The first is characterized by a “barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” The image speaks of death and desolation.
The second is characterized by a tree near water. The roots grow near to the stream. “It fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress but still bears fruit.” This second person is one who hopes in the Lord. The hope provides him with the promise of life and abundance.
Similarly, Jesus uses contrast to highlight faith as the key to understanding the problem of suffering. The four groups he particularly mentions in St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes are: the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the persecuted (on account of the Son of Man).
Collectively these are people who experience suffering. Jesus offers them hope. The sufferings seem to rob the person of some aspect of life. Jesus’ message is that they will not only have relief but life itself, eternal life, as he says: “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”
These are contrasted with those who have their rewards now: the rich, the satisfied, the care-free and the praised. Faith provides those who are suffering with hope. It is faith in God, and particularly in Jesus (the Son of Man) mentioned in the fourth beatitude, that is the basis for hope. This is absent in the woeful who are more like the “barren tree” of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
Jesus points to a future — the hope in a future where the suffering as associated with death is eradicated. He points to the fullness of life awaiting the faithful in heaven.
When Jesus references the “Son of Man” in the fourth beatitude, he is referring to himself. The “Son of Man” is the title used for the judge at the end of time; the one who brings justice. When Jesus speaks these words to his disciples, he is on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. As he speaks of life and death, suffering and relief, he does so keenly aware of what awaits him in the future.
We will soon see, as the Gospel continues to unfold, that he faces them with hope. After his passion, death and resurrection, the disciples will come to a deeper understanding and embrace of the hope that faith offers and provides.
St. Paul references our faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the key to understanding life. In the passage used for the second reading in today’s liturgy, Paul deals with the question of death and life. Some in the community are doubting the resurrection of the dead. For Paul the key is Jesus himself. Jesus rose from the dead and because of this we have life and can be assured of eternal life. Faith in his resurrection provides us with hope. The hope is for life eternal.
St. Paul is so strong on this point that he says: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” Because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead our hope is strong, vibrant and alive.
Keys open doors for us. They allow us to enter where we want to go. Today we are reminded that the metaphorical key to life is faith. Faith in God, faith in Jesus, faith in the resurrection. Faith also provides us with hope which helps us deal with the sufferings we might experience in life and propels us forward through death to resurrection, the fullness of life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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