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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Planted by Streams of Water

The psalmist wondered why the wicked seemed to prosper and not the upright:

Truly God is good to the upright,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant;
    I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
    and their tongues range over the earth.   (Psalm 73:1-9)

If we are looking for worldly success then the psalmist seems to suggest that God may not be the best mentor. The Apostle Paul wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.   (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Paul seems to be saying that life may be more difficult for the Christian disciple than anyone else. It surely was for many in the Early Church, especially the apostles.

God’s “blessings” may not be the type of blessings that the world seeks. In fact, they may be what the world is trying very hard to avoid. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.   (Luke 6:20-23)

If one is looking for quick success, he or she may be tempted to take short cuts by compromising their ethics or morals.

The psalmist who observed the prosperity of the wicked had second thoughts:

But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!   (Psalm 73:16-19)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned:

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.   (Luke 6:24-25)

In today’s appointed psalm we read that those who follow the law of God will bear fruit “in due season.”

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.   (Psalm 1:1-3)

Difficult times are coming. They will tell us where we are really rooted and grounded. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.   (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

What is our time frame of reference? Are we prepared for the long haul? Are we planted by streams of water? That water is God’s holy Word. Jesus, the Word made flesh. His sacrifice on the cross is our guarantee for an eternal salvation in the presence of God. That is the promise we are offered in Christ. Christ’s success becomes our success by faith. We are able to stand firm in him no matter what circumstances may come our way. Today’s psalmist concludes:
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

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