1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17, 20-26
Once a friend of mine who is a stockbroker told me of a couple who were in their eighties who went to see him about investing a large amount of money. They were very rich people and lived in a big house. They had given up their religion many years previously so this world was the only reality as, for them, there was no after life. Apparently they never considered giving some of their wealth to the poor. He felt sad at the attitude towards money they had.
The couple could hardly be said to have been living out what Jesus was revealing in the gospel today when he gave us the Beatitudes as a programme for life. It is important to realise that Jesus is not speaking against material wealth or being properly fed or happy in this life. It would certainly go against his wish for ourselves and others. Did he not feed many people, raise the dead and bring happiness and joy to so many?
In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah we hear that the person who turns from God can easily turn in on him or her self and to aridity of spirit. A clear-cut choice is being offered in the reading between a curse and a blessing. In faith we believe that relying on riches and comforts in the end leave us in a spiritual wilderness. Only living by the values of the gospel will our deepest desires be satisfied.
In order to understand the Beatitudes better we may need a spiritual awakening. Only the person who trusts in God has tapped into the source of life. He has no need to worry. The readings today are basically about trust. In what or in whom do we place our trust? In God and his ways or in the value system of this world? Is it not far better to make choices that involve trusting in God? The most precious thing in the whole world is the consciousness of not participating in injustice of any kind.
So what is the meaning of the Beatitudes? What Jesus is condemning is making the acquisition of wealth and all the things we would like to have, comfort, a good public image, a well admired body etc ends in themselves. And most especially when our focus on these deprives the poor and needy of what is necessary for living a dignified life. Is there not enough in the world for our need but not for our greed?
The Beatitudes are about choice. Jesus does not intend us to make a law of these Beatitudes. He is asking us to go beyond the surface to understand God’s unpredictable ways. God’s preferential option is for the poor and marginalised. He doesn’t wish this condition for them and he is right there with them because of his own human experience of suffering and rejection.
Do we not all know that in a family with a handicapped child it is usually this child who receives most care, love and attention? The reality is, if we but realised it, that we are all God’s handicapped children. Usually the handicap of the child gives the members of its family the capacity, which they might not otherwise have exercised, to love and care for it in a special way. So too with us, as God’s handicapped children we can give God the opportunity to show himself to be fully God.
Just imagine the scene in which Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the gospel. He is facing a very diversified crowd. They are people of goodwill but handicapped by all sorts of cares, difficult circumstances, and greater or lesser capabilities. We may need to look into our hearts to see ourselves the way we really are. We will notice our fears, anxieties and doubts, also our worries about the future, our dishonesties and the games we play to impress and gain favour with others.
Each moment is a sheer gift from God. We know how a little sickness can make us feel vulnerable. A sudden tragedy in a family, unemployment, an earthquake can help us see how very precarious and fragile life is. But with modern technology, computers, mobile phones etc we can be deluded into thinking we can control life.
In the moment when we dare to see and accept ourselves in all our poverty Jesus looks at each of us and says. Blessed are you who turn to me for help. Blessed are you who realise your real need of me. I am certainly on your side and willing to help.
That is why the four Beatitudes are followed by four more called ‘Woes’. This is not because Jesus is wishing bad for anyone. What is the real value of riches in the face of death or finding that one has terminal cancer?
When I was young I used to go carol singing at Christmas. It was always the poorer sections of my town who were most generous, probably because of their own experience. In the richer area we did not gain much. Is it because their riches prevented them from understanding what it was to be poor and in need? However, we must think of all the countries and individuals who are so generous in helping the poor and needy as in the case of the recent terrible earthquake in Haiti and in other similar tragedies.
The Beatitudes and Woes are an invitation to conversion – to dare to look at ourselves for who and what we truly are. With them Jesus is giving us guidelines for our daily concrete lives. He wants to guide us on our journey to help us avoid getting lost. Also to help us avoid being dazzled by worldly standards and value systems.
‘Lord Jesus, help us to live more and more by the Beatitudes, your programme for our happiness. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA