Today, we reflect on a challenging and fundamental passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching on the four beatitudes and the four woes. According to this passage, the blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated, while the cursed are the rich, the well-fed, the laughing, and the well-loved. In other words, the Lord overturns the standards by which we normally measure happiness. He teaches exactly the opposite of what we normally think! We would all prefer being rich and well-fed to being poor and hungry. Jesus is asking us to step back from our natural inclinations, to look deeper into ourselves, and to examine the roots of these preferences.
In this challenging task, the Church helps us by putting the Gospel of the Beatitudes together with a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, who also speaks about two different standards. He says very clearly that there are two different ways we can live. We can either put our trust in human beings, human ways, human strength, or we can put our trust in the Lord. Putting our trust in human strength may look like the better option for a moment, but the truth is that when we do this, we are “like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season.” In such a condition, there is no hope of life and no hope of bearing fruit. But a person who puts his trust in the Lord, even if he passes through a time of trial, a time of drought, “is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream.” Even in a time of drought, a tree like that still bears fruit; it is full of hope and life.
The question to ponder here is, what do we base our happiness on? If we consider the things of this world as the only measure of our happiness, then yes, we will be relatively happy while we have these things. But as soon as they are gone – and they will all pass away sooner or later – then we will be sad. However, if we put our trust in the Lord, then even when we are suffering, we still have a reason to rejoice, and it is a reason that will not be taken away from us.
St. Luke’s list of the Beatitudes begins with, “Blessed are you who are poor.” St. Matthew’s version begins with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3). In both versions, the blessed are clearly those who are needy, those who know their need for God. If we do not accept this fact, that we need God, then we will never understand the Beatitudes. The Lord wants to bless us, but we may not be open to the blessing he has come to give. The very reason Jesus has come is to save us, but we sometimes act as if we do not believe we need a Savior. The truth is that we are a people in desperate need of a Savior.
How did Jesus save us? By his Death and Resurrection. This is the very heart of Christianity. This is how he opened for us the way to Beatitude, the way to eternal life in Heaven. St. Paul addresses this central truth of our Faith in the second reading. He tells us that if we do not believe in the Resurrection, our faith is vain, and we are still trapped in the slavery of sin. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.”
When Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “woe to you who are rich,” he is not telling us simply to give away our money, if we have any. Rather, he wants to change the very basis of our thinking about what it means to be blessed. St. Paul helps us expand our vision of beatitude by reminding us of life after death. We live in a materialistic world that emphasizes the value of things that are passing and gives no thought to the hereafter and to questions of Heaven and hell. Today’s liturgy gives us a precious opportunity to re-examine ourselves and to be purified of our tendency to seek happiness in the things of this world.
If we find our treasure in the things of the Lord, we are already rich no matter what we have or do not have. This is the blessing available to us right now, if we put our trust in the Lord. So let us put our trust in him and experience true Beatitude: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
Why do I prefer to be rich and well-fed to being poor and hungry? In my life, what do I base my happiness on? How am I purifying my tendency to seek happiness in the things of this world?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.