Jesus 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 in 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.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
To be confirmed, I was required to memorize the Beatitudes. At 12 years old, I had only ever been asked to memorize a verse or two of Scripture at a time. I loved learning a longer passage – loved the way the words rolled off my tongue. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn.” I’d venture to say that many of us memorized the Beatitudes in our younger days. Of course, when we did so, we learned Matthew’s Beatitudes. This All Saints Day, we take on Luke’s version where blessings are alarmingly juxtaposed with woes and then followed by a seemingly-impossible list of disciplines.
Blessings. Luke’s Beatitudes are plain and literal. Jesus’ concern isn’t the poor in spirit but the actual poor. Jesus isn’t focused on those who hunger for righteousness but those who hunger for food. When Jesus blesses “those who weep” in Luke’s Gospel, he may have in mind a group like Matthew’s “those who mourn”, though the blessing (laughter) is stronger in Luke than in Matthew (comfort). The meek, merciful, pure, and peacemakers receive no mention here. Instead, Luke is focused on the poor, the hungry, the weepers, and the hated – the excluded. Luke wants to share with these, for whom God has a special heart, the good news that Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom in which God’s justice will prevail by turning their current suffering upside down. This is the heart of the good news for Luke: beginning its rhythm in Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-55) and Zechariah’s prophesy (1:68-79) and pounding palpably in Jesus’ first public speech (4:18-19) and parables (see, e.g., 16:1-9, 19-31). God’s plan to turn suffering upside down beats boldly in the Beatitudes.
Woes. Suffering isn’t the only thing that is turned upside down in God’s kingdom. To the rich, full, laughing, and accepted, Jesus issues a warning. “You have received your consolation” (6:24). We cannot expect to share in Jesus ministry – in the promise of the good news – without sharing in his suffering, without carrying the cross and following him into places where poverty, hunger, sorrow, and hatred proliferate (14:27). We may squirm or quake at Jesus’ warning, but if we attend to the message, we can also hear good news in Jesus’ woes. Riches, full stomachs, laughing hearts, and acceptance from others make us feel good, but only for a while. They are temporary “solutions” to an emptiness that will never be filled by the things of this world – an emptiness that can only be filled by relationship with God. When we store up treasures, fill our bellies with fine foods, and distract ourselves with entertainment and jokes that lead us to laughter, we serve idols. We fall into the trap of self-sufficiency. We deny God as Lord of our lives. The good news for us in the woes is the permission to let go of this idolatrous pursuit and the invitation to cling to Jesus – to learn to rely completely on him.
Disciplines. How do we learn to rely completely on Jesus? Here at the conclusion of the Beatitudes in Luke, Jesus encourages us to practice. The verbs in the concluding paragraph of the text (love, do good, bless, pray, offer, give) are good starting points for our practice, though we are rightly cautioned that they can become empty platitudes without an abiding focus on the objects of our practice. Love must be directed to enemies, good to haters, blessing to those who curse. Jesus’ disciplines, much like the promises made by those who will be baptized this All Saints Day, will impossible for us to practice without God’s love and help. Follow the link below and pray St. Francis’ prayer with me, seeking just that: God’s love and help for the journey.