How do we find life? How do we keep from dying inside? And can we really be people of hope? These are questions that unfold deep inside us, questions we wrestle with throughout our lives, and questions that sometimes wake us up in the middle of the night. Each of our readings today provides us with an answer.
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah presents us with a decision upon which pivots the outcome of our lives. If we cut ourselves off from God, choosing instead to trust in ourselves, other people, or the fleeting things of the world, we will be “like a barren bush in the desert” that “stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” It is an image of absolute desolation and sterility, reminding us that to turn away from God is to cut ourselves off from the only true source of life. By contrast, if we trust in God and strive to follow the ways of God, no matter what happens to us we will be like a tree that bears fruit when everything else around it is withering away.
In today’s second reading, Paul goes straight to the heart of our Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus testifies that in God we find a love that will never abandon us, a love that truly is stronger than death. Death is real, and so are evil, suffering, and loss, but nothing can prevail over God’s love. This is why we can always live in hope and why despair, however tempting, never makes sense.
Finally, today’s gospel may take us by surprise because Jesus tells us that we most find life, most keep from dying inside, and most fully are people of hope, when we commit our lives to building the kingdom of God. We do that when we seek justice for the poor, when we feed the hungry, when we comfort those who are weeping, and when we stay faithful to Christ even when the cost of doing so is high. In other words, we are most fully alive and hopeful when we live for something other than ourselves.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.