To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 17:5-8; 1 Cor 15:12,16-20; Lk 6:17, 20-26
Is it logically possible to regard the poor as Blessed? Will common sense allow us to do so? Is our experience not rather that it is the poor who are despised and the rich who are blessed? How can we make sense of the beatitudes that Jesus spoke 2000 years ago, today? Were they true at the time of Jesus? Are they true today? Will we try to sidestep the issue by interpreting “poor” and “poverty” spiritually? These are some of the questions that come to mind when we read the beatitudes of Jesus as narrated by the Gospel of Luke.
The first and foremost point that must be noted even as we begin to read the beatitudes is that they make no ethical demands. They do not give exhortation. They simply and emphatically pronounce a blessing. This is what the beatitudes really are: A blessing on those to whom they are pronounced. Luke speaks in the second person and not the third person like Matthew does in his beatitudes. This has the effect of making the pronouncements more direct, more personal.
The first beatitude is addressed to the poor (not “the poor in spirit” Mt 5:3). This is indeed a scandalous statement because it overturns all conventional expectations and pronounces a blessing on those who are marginalized. They are promised the kingdom of God by being released from their marginalisation and oppression. It brings to light that God is making an option for the poor. The poor are blessed not because they are holier than others, nor even because they are better than others, but simply because they are poor. The presence of so many poor in a world in which only a few are rich does not fit in with God’s plan for creation. It is against the nature of God and against all that God envisions for the world. The pronouncement of this beatitude is an unambiguous narration of how God wants things to be. The next two beatitudes concern hunger and mourning and could be addressed to the same group. The poor because they are poor are also hungry and weep. They are promised an end of their hunger in the promise that they will be filled and an end to their weeping and mourning in the promise that they will laugh. This end is not merely eschatological or to be hoped for in the next life alone. It is something that is being done here and now. The fourth and final beatitude in Luke speaks about the disciple who will be hated, excluded, reviled and defamed. This will be because that disciple will stand for the truth, justice and integrity. They will be unafraid of the consequences. They will be hated because they will tell the world how things must really be and challenge the rich to change. They will be excluded because it is better not to hear what they have to say and maintain the status quo. They will be reviled and defamed in the hope that their words will not be taken seriously. Their credibility will be maligned in the hope that when they speak the word of truth, their words will not have an effect and sound hollow to those who hear them. These are called to rejoice in their being reviled and promised a reward in heaven. They are also given as consolation the example of those who went through similar trails before them.
The heaven that is promised to them is not a pie in the sky when they die; rather it is a situation in which God will ensure that the word spoken will take effect in the here and now. The best proof of the fact that Jesus’ words were true and are still relevant today is the person of Jesus. His birth in unusual and poor circumstances, his life lived without a place to lay his head, his ministry directed for the most part to the poor and marginalised, his death at the hands of those who regarded him as threat and so maligned his name and his resurrection from the dead are proof if proof is indeed required. The challenge is to believe them and continue to speak those words.
This is indeed the proof that Paul speaks about in the second reading of today when he challenges the community at Corinth to believe these words. Christ not only preached them but lived them out in every detail in his life. He dared his contemporaries to live such a life even if it meant that it was not always possible to see the results immediately and in the manner in which one would have liked to. Thus even when he hung on the Cross and it seemed that truth, justice and selflessness were defeated they were in fact victorious.
A vibrant Christian community which proclaims the same message and uses the same challenging idiom, witness to the truth of the beatitudes. Even as it does this, it does not forget that contrasting each of the four beatitudes, there are four woes. The first woe is addressed to the rich who have received their consolation already and so can expect nothing more. Those who have had their fill now are told that they will go hungry and those who laugh now will weep. Those of whom people speak well are compared to the false prophets. These are people who because they are satisfied with the superficial and temporary will be like the tree that Jeremiah speaks about in the first reading of today. They are like a piece of dry shrub in the desert which bears no fruit. They do not have any source of nourishment or depth and soon dry up. The shallow life of materialism that they lead and their desire to accumulate binds them to such a degree that they keep looking for happiness and the kingdom and it always eludes them. One cannot be this kind of person and continue to be a disciple of Jesus. Rather, a disciple of Jesus is like the tree planted beside a stream. It sinks its roots deeply and becomes richly fertile and productive. It has depth and so is unafraid of the assaults of the elements. It is always fresh, even in the most difficult and trying times and lives without fear and anxiety.
Thus the readings of today issue a call to each of us not only to hear the words but to live them out as courageously and with the same trust and confidence that Jesus did.