Though the old Weston Priory song containing the haunting refrain, "Come back to me with all your heart; don't let fear keep us apart," was entitled Hosea, it could just as accurately been called Micah, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah. The goal and message of every prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures is to bring people back to Yahweh. Forming and building a relationship with God is at the heart of all faith.
Yet no matter how deep our faith, we're always tempted to let our God relationship slide into the background of our lives, replacing it with a slavish adherence to rules and regulations. Many of us figure a relationship with a specific structure or institution is more secure, safer than a relationship with a God who's completely "other" from ourselves and the institutions and structures we create.
That's the situation Jeremiah faces in today's first reading. Scholars tell us that this pre-Babylonian Exile prophet has given up on the institution and structures of Judaism. For centuries it had been leading the faithful in directions Yahweh didn't want them to go. Once the Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem in the early years of the 6th century BCE, he's convinced Yahweh wants the Israelites to throw down their arms, surrender to their enemies, and be marched off into an exile which will effectively destroy the structures and institution which led them away from Yahweh.
Jeremiah dreams that in exile, with the externals of Judaism wiped out, the Chosen People will be forced to return to the most essential part of their faith: their relationship with Yahweh. It'll be all they have left to build on.
The prophet helps prepare them for their exile with the contrast he creates in this passage. "Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings . . . whose heart turns away from Yahweh . . . . Blessed is the one who trusts in Yahweh, whose hope is Yahweh."
Luke imitates Jeremiah's contrast style in our gospel pericope. Though he and Matthew employ the hypothetical "Q" document for their narrative of the beatitudes, Luke reduces them from eight to four, but quickly adds four contrasting curses. Like Jeremiah, he's giving his people a choice. Will they choose the joy and blessings which come from imitating Jesus' poverty, hunger, sadness and persecution, or will they pick the curses which come from their imitating the wealth, satisfaction, laughter, and social status of his enemies? Only those who have formed a deep relationship with Jesus will dare copy the lifestyle choices which brought him a new life.
In a parallel way, Paul, writing almost 30 years before Luke, offers his Corinthian community the same choices. But he goes about it in a different way. Some in his church have come to the conclusion they're not going to rise from the dead. Though they believe Jesus rose, they don't see how that applies to themselves. Just because Bill Gates, for instance, is a billionaire, that doesn't mean I'm a billionaire.
Paul's only recourse is to return his readers to their primary relationship with the risen Jesus. According to his Christian belief, those who believe in Jesus become one with Jesus. To form a relationship with Jesus implies we identify with Jesus; we actually become other Christs. If Jesus dies, we die; if Jesus comes to life, we come to life. To believe Jesus rose from the dead, but we won't rise from the dead means we're the "most pitiable people of all." Our faith really is "in vain."
The Second Vatican Council demonstrated that structures and institutions can and must change. It also reminded us, like today's three sacred authors that our relationships with God and Jesus are at the heart of our faith, the force and reason behind any structural and institutional change.