THE BEATITUDES AND WOES IN THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN
(A biblical reflection on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year C], 13 February 2022)
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:17,20-26
First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalms: Psalm 1:1-4,6; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
The Scripture Text
And He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases.
And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said:
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out Your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:17,20-26 RSV)
In today’s Gospel reading we are given Saint Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin word “beatus” meaning “happy”, “blest”, “fortunate”. The idea occurs frequently in the psalms and the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Biblically speaking, a person was said to be happy, fortunate, blest, when she/he did what was pleasing to God. God blessed her/him. St. Matthew gives us eight (or nine) Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and he puts them in the mouth of Christ during the Sermon on the Mount.
St. Luke’s version is somewhat different. He lists four Beatitudes and four Woes. The opposite of blest is woeful, and woe is the lot of the wrongdoer. The location of St. Luke’s list is also different from that of Matthew’s: Christ had come down from the mountain, where He had spent the night in prayer; He was surrounded by a “crowd of His disciples” and “a great multitude of people from Judea and Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon”. However, in both Gospels the essence of Christ’s teaching is the same.
Jesus addresses the beatitudes to His disciples first of all (Luke 6:20) but there is no exclusion of those among the crowds who will follow Him.
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Here Jesus 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, poverty for the sake of God is. The Kingdom of God is already marked out for them. As followers of Christ, they are already in the Kingdom’s preparatory stage. The second perfect stage is guaranteed, provided they persevere.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21). The poor who are hungry in this life for Christ’s sake will have their fill in the next.
“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). The sorrows of this life borne for Christ will be turned into laughter in the next, where, as St. John says: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 RSV).
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out Your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:23-24). Here Luke enumerates the various grades of opposition that the followers of Christ would meet – hatred, excommunication from the Temple, outrage (reproach), and defamation. Because they elected to follow Christ, Our Lord alone calls Himself by the title “Son of Man”. He does so perhaps in order to stress the reality of His human nature, His equality with us, while at the same time giving a hint at His Messiahship. When the disciples suffer because of Christ, they should rejoice, because of the reward that their suffering is already earning for them. The prophets before them suffered, too, because they spoke for God.
What Christ said to His disciples that day long ago in the far-off Galilee applies equally well to every true Christians today. We must never let the things of this world keep us from God. We may acquire and use earthly goods, but we must acquire and use them justly, charitably, and reasonably. While only a relatively small number of Christians are called on to take a vow of poverty, all Christians are forbidden to take a vow of wealth, i.e. to make the acquisition of wealth their purpose of life. While only a few special disciples of Christ are asked to give up even the lawful pleasures of the senses, all Christians are commanded to avoid unlawful indulgence in sensual pleasure.
No follower of Christ is forbidden to enjoy the legitimate joys of life, but every Christian must be prepared to accept life’s pains and sorrows as well. We are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, wending our way to heaven. The lighter our pack the easier and faster we travel. But there are cares and responsibilities, according to each one’s vocation in life, which we may not and must not shirk. If we face these responsibilities honestly and cheerfully, realizing that they are the means by which God wishes us to gain our eternal reward, then they will be less burdensome and less heavy for us.
These 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 sorrows 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.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, wending our way to heaven. Help us to imitate You in generosity, mercy, and concern for others – thus doing things pleasing to our heavenly Father – while we are on our way. We want to share in Your joy, and blessings as we participate in building the Kingdom of God. Blessed be Your holy name, now and for ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 12 February 2022
A Christian Pilgrim