Luke 6:17, 20-26
He came down with the twelve and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Blessings and Woes
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.’
Today’s Gospel reading is an excerpt from the Gospel given by St. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin “beatus” meaning happy, blest, and fortunate. The idea occurs frequently in the psalms and the wisdom books of the Old Testament. A man was said to be happy, fortunate, blest, when he did what was pleasing to God. God blessed him.
The difference between St. Matthew’s version of Beatitudes and that of St. Luke’s is that St. Matthew gives eight or nine Beatitudes (Mt. 5:2-12) and he puts them in the mouth of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. However, St. Luke lists four Beatitudes and four Woes. The opposite of blest is woeful, and woe is the lots of the wrongdoer. The location of St. Luke’s list is also different from that of St. Matthew’s. For St. Luke, Jesus gave the Beatitudes not on the top of a mountain but when he came down from the mountain, where he had spent the night in prayer. For us, we should be reminded that despite the differences of the version of the Beatitudes according to St. Matthew and St. Luke, the essence of Jesus’ teaching is the same.
Let’s take look of the Beatitudes in today’s Gospel reading first. When Jesus said “blessed are you poor”, he is speaking of the poor in reality, the lowly ones who depend on God for help. This applies especially to the disciples, who have left all worldly things in order to follow him. Of itself poverty is not a virtue, but poverty for the sake of God is. The kingdom is already marked out for them as follower of Christ. They are already in the kingdom’s preparatory stage. The second and perfect stage is guaranteed provided they persevere.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled” means the poor who are hungry in this life for Christ’s sake will have their fill in the next.
“Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh” refers to the sorrows of this life borne for Christ will be turned into laughter in the next.
When it comes to the last Beatitude – “Blessed are you when people hate you…” – St. Luke enumerates the various grades of opposition that the followers of Christ would meet because they elected to follow Christ. When the disciples suffer because of Christ, they should rejoice because the reward that their suffering is already earning for them.
Jesus now, according to St. Luke, turns to those who have no interest in the kingdom of God, and whose sole interest in life is I acquiring wealth and enjoying earthly pleasures. These, Jesus says, will have their poverty, their hunger and their weeping in the next life.
He then reverts to his disciples in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading. If they preach the message of Christ – the message of the Cross and mortification – they will not earn the applause of all men, if they get that applause it must be that, like the false prophets of the Old Testament, they are preaching what please men, and not what please God. They have ceased to be disciples.
The Beatitudes are personally important to all of us. If we are true followers of Christ and sincere Christians, we will take the rough as well as the smooth, the poverty as well as the plenty, the sorrow as well as the joys. These are the stepping stones which God has laid down for us to help us get across the river of life to the eternal shores. Amen.