The American Christian Activist Dorothy Day was confronted in a conversation with the question of whether she was being too radical in her emphasis on caring for the poor. She said something along the lines of “Go and read the Four Gospels and then we can talk.”
She may well have had today’s reading in mind. The Beatitudes appear in Matthew and in Luke, though they are different in some ways. Matthew has eight beatitudes and Luke four, to which he recounts four accompanying woes. Matthew has Jesus speak in the third person, Blessed are the poor, while Luke has the second person, Blessed are you poor. Luke does not have that universal spiritual feeling of Matthew who records “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, and simply says “Blessed are you poor”. This has led to questions as to whether Matthew has “spiritualized” the Luke account, or Luke has “radicalized” the Matthew account. Why do we think that Jesus only taught this way once? Might he not have taught this many times, and in different contexts? We need them both, and today as he looks at his disciples who he has just called, he looks to heaven and then to them, and tells them what the happy life is. At first it does not seem that happy. In our culture we think happy means avoiding many of the things Jesus says and yet the woes reveal to us that seeking our own comfort, security, prestige, success and distraction is not living. It cuts us off from our common human experience, and our need and deep trust in God.
Here are some thoughts from Fr. Richard Rohr.
Blessed are you who are poor.
What a strange thing to say! Does anyone really think today that the poor are blessed? I don’t think so. Most of us are enthralled by capitalism and think it is the rich who are blessed. We have even turned the Gospel into a “prosperity” message—that if we have enough faith, God rewards us with financial success. That sure doesn’t sound like what Jesus is saying here! Scholars teach that Luke was talking to a poor community, and so in this passage Jesus is affirming the poor directly.
Blessed are you who are now hungry.
Jesus seems to be teaching that we need to choose at least a bit of dissatisfaction—which is the human situation anyway—so that we long for God. God alone is the One who will finally satisfy us.
Blessed are you who weep now.
Weeping doesn’t sound like a very positive thing, but people who have gone through major grief often tend to be more compassionate, more forgiving and understanding. Somehow, grief softens the heart.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One.
Talk about an upside-down universe! I’m not happy when people hate me—and some people do hate me. Jesus is saying that we have to find our happiness somewhere other than in people’s opinions about us. If we don’t, it’s just up and down, constantly assessing, who likes me today? If we want to build our life on a solid foundation, we need to base it on God who loves us unconditionally, constantly, and without exception. Then we don’t go up and down. We know who we are now and forever.