Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’
Today’s reading presents us with Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. Unlike the more familiar version we know from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, the blessings are contrasted against a series of woes. The counter-cultural nature of the blessings are not changed. Those who are blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted for their faith. In Luke’s account these blessings are hammered home with Jesus spelling out that those who are rich in this world, those who have an abundance, those who gloat at the misfortune of others and those who are highly regarded will be the ones who come to know the woes that are being foretold.
We live in a world that celebrates success. Unfortunately, the nature of that success is defined by those who consider themselves to be successful. It is the rich and the highly regarded who decide upon the membership of their exclusive club. The majority of the world’s population have the door firmly slammed in their faces. Not only are they rejected and looked down upon but they are often blamed for their own unhappy lot. When people do not demonstrate ‘worldly success’ they are often labelled as feckless and idle, unambitious and unmotivated. The ones whom Jesus calls blessed are, in fact, the ones who do not demonstrate a need to bully and control, to look down upon and ostracise.
The word blessed, as used in the Beatitudes is interesting. It can also be translated as happy. Perhaps the thought of happiness rooted in poverty, hunger, misery and persecution seems strange. However, such happiness is there for all who are faithful to Christ’s call in their lives. It is a subtle point, but one that is often overlooked, that Jesus’ teaching that we know as the Beatitudes was offered to his disciples. We often have an image of these teachings being preached to the large crowds that gathered around Jesus but, no, they are given to the disciples. When looked at in this way they form part of Jesus’ promise to those who gave up everything to follow him. The Beatitudes are also Jesus’ promise to us, if we remain faithful and true in that faith.
Let us pray that, no matter what the world may throw at us, we might remain true to God’s call in our lives. Let us pray that we might, in God’s good time, come to know the blessings he seeks to pour upon us. Let us pray that we might not step away from the true path and stray into the woes that await those who cannot set aside their love and greed for all that belongs to this world.