Plant Yourself Near the Water

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

The Psalm for this Sunday is one of my favorites. It’s the very first Psalm, and it tells us right off the bat the way to blessedness. “Blessed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked… but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night” (Ps 1:1-2). It says the blessed person is “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade” (Ps 1:3).

This comparison is echoed in this Sunday’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside 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 drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.

Jer 17:8

What a beautiful image!

We have a small creek that runs behind our house, and any tree fortunate enough to be growing near it flourishes. This is because it grows close to the source of its prosperity. Its roots have ready access to the water it needs for life.

God is the source of our life and so we should be deeply rooted near the source of his life-giving waters.

As our psalm says, this means delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it day and night. By “law” the psalmist means the ways of the Lord, enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and revealed fully to us in Christ.

Jesus tells us in this week’s gospel what it means to be truly blessed. It doesn’t mean pursuing the things that the world says we need to be happy. It doesn’t mean having that new iPhone or fancy car. It doesn’t mean having the right clothes or the right body type. It doesn’t mean having a huge salary or a lot of followers on Instagram. None of these things make us blessed, because none of these things really matter. None of them can make us happy.

What Jesus says makes us blessed may sound counter-intuitive at first. He says, “blessed are you who are poor… hungry… weeping” (Lk 6:20-21). He even says, “blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you” (Lk 6:22). Jesus explains: those who are rich have already received their consolation, while the poor will be consoled in heaven. Those who are extolled by the world have been judged worthy by the world, but the world’s opinion is fickle. It may love you one day and hate you the next. In the end, the world’s opinion won’t matter because only God is our judge, so we must concern ourselves with his approval, not the world’s.

When Jesus is talking about the poor and hungry being blessed, he’s not limiting his meaning to those who lack money or food. This is made clear in the parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel, which says, “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3). To be poor in spirit doesn’t mean to be lacking in spirit, but rather to have a certain humility of spirit, to recognize our smallness and dependence upon God. To be spiritually hungry is to hunger for God’s life and his truth.

Those who are poor in spirit, who hunger for truth, and who are not concerned with winning the accolades of this world, understand that their happiness lies beyond this world. Their true happiness lies in God alone. That is why they are blessed.

St. Augustine speaks of this in his great spiritual classic, The Confessions.

How is it, when, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.

St. Augustine, Confessions 10, 20

To live our life as if we have no need of God would be like buying a tree from a nursery that was labelled as requiring rich, moist soil, but instead planted it in dry sand. That tree would not grow as it should. It would not bear fruit.

God wants us to bear fruit. We want this, as well. We long for our lives to have meaning and purpose. The scriptures tell us specifically what kind of fruit we can expect to produce if we stay rooted in God’s widsom. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23a).

To bear this kind of fruit in our lives is to be blessed indeed. And the only way for that to happen is to plant our roots close to the source of blessedness.

How do we do that? By planting ourselves firmly in the Church, the Body of Christ, by participating in her sacraments and being attentive to her teachings. By rooting ourselves in the scriptures, the living Word of God, especially the gospels, the instructions found in the epistles, and the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. And by rooting our daily life in prayer, “meditating on the law (the love) of the Lord day and night.”

Plant yourself by God’s living waters. Be rooted in his divine Widsom. Strive to live out his commands. Then you can be guaranteed that your life will bear good fruit. Then you will be blessed.