Then he 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.”
At least one more question still lingers about Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: if God has a special concern for those who are poor and suffering, should those of us who are pretty well off be worried? After all, Jesus does say, “woe to you who are rich,” “woe to you who are full now,” and “woe to you who are laughing now.” That pretty much describes me. So should I – and, by extension, we – be worried?
There are two ways to get at this question, I think. Both have some merit.
The first is to recognize that there are times when we also are at a loss, when we feel poor and even are poor, certainly in spirit. There are times when all of us mourn, and times when all of us feel the pinch of want – if not materially then, again, spiritually.
You can probably see what I’m doing here. I’m spiritualizing the passage somewhat. There’s some justification for doing this; after all, Matthew did. ☺ But it’s also true. We all have ups and down – no matter how materially wealthy – for we are all mortal, fragile, vulnerable – in a world, human – and there is a promise from God for us at these times.
The second route is to recognize that God does, indeed, have a special concern for the poor. But rather than have that make us anxious we can imagine that God wants us to share that same concern. That God invites us to discover who and what we are not through our possessions but through our solidarity and identification with those who have less. After all, we are all, as we just said, mortal, fragile, vulnerable – in a world, human – and there is an invitation from God for us when we remember this.
Of course, this is more than an invitation. It’s also a command. God in Jesus identifies completely with us and God intends and expects that this profound and unexpected love will free us from our attachments to wealth and human-made security to identify with and give ourselves to each other, for as we do so we discover greater blessing.
I’m not sure that completely deals with the anxiety this passage probably causes us if we read it carefully. Indeed, we may wonder whether we have it in us to share as we’ve been called to, to deny ourselves so that others may flourish, to live with less so that others may have enough.
Until we stop to remember a time when we did that. And I’m confident that each us has, at one time or another, sacrificed so that someone else might have more. And if you can remember the joy you felt by doing that you’ll know just a little more about the “blessings” Jesus describes.
None of this completely blunts the edge of Jesus’ words. But it shouldn’t. The call to blessing God makes is sharp, cutting away all that would keep us from abundant life so that we may experience the joy of the kingdom even here, even now.
Prayer: Dear God, you command us to give of what we have and are so that all of your children may have enough. Enliven our hearts with your love so that we may do so, and doing so experience anew the joy and blessing of sacrificial love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.