When I hear the words of the Sermon on the Mount, I think about a reflection
that a young priest in my diocese wrote regarding the scene that opened before him as he stood in the sanctuary of his church overlooking the faces of his people:
Before me is a sea of familiar faces, but as a priest,
what is visible are their hearts.
I see Gerald, whose brother is in the hospital.
I see Veronica, who was worried about her husband last night.
I see Phil, who is begging the Lord for help with his addiction.
I see Clare, who is ashamed of what happened last weekend.
I see Eva, who was here late on Friday singing to God in the darkness of the
I see Juan, who came back to God last week in the confessional.
I see children, children of a Father.
The Father who gave me his Son.
The Son who has made me his friend
and has made known to me what he has learned from the Father.
These words flow from the heart of a shepherd who knows and loves his sheep. And the knowledge and love that he carries in his heart takes root and bears fruit within a particular place, a specific parish comprised of a collection of neighborhoods in certain corner of his city.
Like the tree mentioned in today’s passage from the Book of Jeremiah, love of God and love others requires that we sink our roots deep into a certain place.
Because it is only in committing ourselves to real people and a real place that we are able, in the course of some time, to access the deep aquifers of grace that flow beneath the creation on which we walk, and deep within the history of the souls of those we love and those we are call to love as best we can.
The author, Wendell Berry once wrote: “There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places.”
Perhaps this is why, in the second half of St. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, we find a series of laments. After hearing the Lord say, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry…,” we hear him say, “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are comfortable, woe to you who are satisfied…”
Could it be that the Lord is reacting to the greed and selfishness of folks who, in place of loving and nurturing the place where they live, have exploited that place, that is, taken from a place without a grateful return to the community or a replenishing of the land? In today’s terms, that would include those who take whatever resources they can, then channeling the profit into foreign bank accounts and off-shore investments.
In a book called, “The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age,” the Daniel Grothe, who is a minister, writes:
We are called to love a particular place. Fostering close ties to one’s community and love for one’s place, however, yields fruitfulness. Our society promotes the value individual choice and keeping one’s options open; our faith, however, is based on the notion of unbreakable covenants: making commitments, tying oneself down, giving oneself away.
This is the reason we gather to worship together in a particular place along with the people with whom we share a place called home. Like a tree whose roots grow deep, a territorial parish is mindful of its place and the special needs of that special place.
The true practice of the true faith requires that we work with our hands, serve with our hands, hold one another’s hands and receive Holy Communion in our hands. All this we do with our hands, not just our hearts.