Sixth Sunday of the Year
The Lucan Beatitudes
Today’s readings present the beatitudes as they are found in the Gospel of Luke. There are only four beatitudes in Luke followed by four antitheses or “woes”. Most of us are more familiar with the beatitudes in Matthew which has eight beatitudes and no woes. Matthew speaks about the proper attitudes of the Christian, like “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Luke speaks about the present reality of the Christian, “Blessed are you who are poor now.”
Why the difference? The Gospel of Matthew is written for Jewish Christians. It speaks about the new attitudes, the new mind set necessary for the Kingdom of the Lord. The heart must be pure, the Spirit must be poor, those who mourn the plight of Israel fallen from God will be comforted, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will receive the Kingdom of Heaven. There must be a transformation from the Old Testament mentality to a new life, a new testament, a new Kingdom. The Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew present some of the fundamental changes that the ancient Jews must make to become Christians. In Matthew Jesus gives the Beatitudes from a mountain, just as Moses gave the Law of God from Mount Sinai.
The Gospel of Luke is quite different from Matthew. It was written by a gentile convert, Luke, and addressed primarily to gentile converts to Christianity. Luke’s audience was poor. Many were slaves or low born. Their choice of Christianity only exacerbated their situation. They were persecuted, suffering. In presenting the Lord’s words to them, Luke places Jesus on a plain. He was on a level with them. He was poor, suffering and persecuted.
Let’s look at the four Beatitudes in Luke: Blessed are you who are poor now, hungry now, mourn now and are excluded or persecuted now. They have a lot to say to all of us.
First of all, those who are poor now are those who recognize their dependence on God, not on material possessions. I have met many people who are very wealthy and yet very poor because their stuff really means nothing to them, all that matters is to possess Jesus Christ. When the only treasure that matters in life is the Lord, we can be poor regarding our stuff, but we are rich in what matters. Sometimes I ask myself, if my house were to burn down and everything would be destroyed, would I also be devastated? I hope not. I also hope that I would be devastated if I made a Faustian bargain, and gained everything in the world for the price of Jesus Christ. Then I would have nothing.
Why does Luke even mention the beatitude, “Blessed are you who are hungry now?” Isn’t this covered in the poor stuff? Not really. Luke is referring to being hungry for the Lord and his Kingdom. Many of us have been hungry this way and are still hungry for the Lord. We made retreats, had spiritual experiences and felt hungry for more. The song is really right: “I can’t get enough of you, Jesus.” He’s a meal that never fills us, who always leaves you searching for ways to find new and fuller experiences of His Presence, ways to be nourished with His Spirit.
“Blessed are you who are weeping,” has nothing to do with funerals. It has to do with the sorrow we feel for those people who are living in darkness, who reject the Lord, who are in a hole and refuse to come out of it. We can look at ourselves, our lives and know that we have been there. We reach out to them and say, you can be better, your are better. And we mourn for those who are hurting so much existing in a meaningless life. We weep over the celebrities who appear to have it all, money, fame, beauty, and, I am sure intelligence, but whose very talents have destroyed them. We weep for those who die alone because no one cares enough to be with them. We weep for all who suffer various addictions. We pray for all who have been conned by the world into worshiping the god of materialism. We pray for all who have been deluded by society into embracing immorality acting as though living a sleazy life is acceptable. We weep for all those who have bought into these lies. They are missing so much. They are throwing everything away for so little. And so we mourn.
And “Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude you and insult you and call you names on account of me.” Putting Christ in our lives can lead others to the Lord. But there are people who transfer their own guilt over their lives to those who are doing their best to be Christian. They don’t talk to you. They don’t invite you to join them in anything happening in the school, work or neighborhood. You walk down the hall at school and they look at you and someone says something and the rest start laughing. And you hate that. And so do I when I’m in the grocery store or someplace and people see me wearing a cross or in clericals and make some sort of comment under their breath. But we would rather have people laugh at us for our commitment to Christ then abandon Jesus.
We really have only one choice in life: to be for God or against God. We can’t have both. Either we live for the Kingdom and die to our superficial wants or we live for ourselves and lose the Kingdom of God. Everything in life has a cost. There is a cost to pay for following Christ. Sometimes it seems like a high cost. It means pushing our selfish desires to the side, filling our hunger for the Lord, grieving over those who are rejecting Him while at the same time enduring their scorn. Everything has a cost, but the reward we are seeking is worth all costs. Jesus Christ, His Life now and for eternity, is worth whatever sacrifices we are called to make, whatever mockery we are called to endure. Considering what He gives us, happiness and meaning to our lives here, union with Him in complete joy for all eternity, the cost is little. Possessing Christ is the greatest bargain we will ever be offered.
We pray today, as always, for the courage to be Catholic.