There are Beatitudes for us today in the Jeremiah, Psalm and Luke
readings. They declare blessed those whose lives are focused on God
and who live dependent and trusting in God. Jeremiah puts it
succinctly: if we rely solely on our human strengths and
self-sufficiency, we will only have misery. We will be, the prophet
warns, like plants in the desert struggling to survive. These plants
live, but what’s the value of their lives? He advises that there is
an immense gap between us mortals, "flesh," and the Lord. Our Psalm
today echoes the blessing Jeremiah proclaims: "Blessed are they who
hope in the Lord." .
In contrast to the withered plant in the desert, those who
acknowledge their limitations and turn in trust to God, will
flourish. They will be like, "a tree planted near running water." It
is said that Psalm 1 is an introduction and overview to the Book of
Psalms; it sums up all of the Psalms. Throughout the Psalms there
will be contrasts between those who are righteous and choose God and
those who go their own way and perish: "For the Lord watches over
the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes."
There is a choice offered us by the prophet Jeremiah and the
Psalm response: will we choose drought, or abundant waters – trust
in ourselves, or in God?
Today’s and next week’s gospels are from the "Sermon on the
Plain," – a parallel to Matthew’s "Sermon on the Mount." While
similar, both evangelists are writing for different audiences and
tailor their material accordingly. Isn’t that what good preachers
are supposed to do? In Luke’s version there is a large multitude of
Jesus’ disciples with him and also "a large number of the people."
Jesus speaks to his disciples, those who are already following him.
How many of the crowd who heard him were attracted to the good news
he was sharing? Did they become his disciples too? Did what he said
affect their lives; change their notion of God? Has the Sermon had
similar affects on us?
After listing the four situations in life that make people
blessed, Luke then lists their opposites, declaring the "woes." The
word for "blessed" is not a description of happiness as we know it;
but is a gift bestowed by God. You don’t earn the blessings; you
just need them and God notices. Those who have nothing – no material
wealth, or food, who are weeping and hated, because of Jesus, will
receive God’s favor.
Luke’s church was experiencing deprivation and suffering because
they were followers of Christ. They certainly would not have felt
"blessed;" nor would others who looked on their miserable condition,
consider them "blessed." Was Luke being "real" in his enumeration of
those who are blessed by God? The evidence didn’t seem to show any
sign of God’s favor. When we struggle through hard times it doesn’t
feel like God is on our side; it may even feel God has turned
against us. Can we trust the truth of these Beatitudes; that with
God, things are not as they seem? Those the world disfavors and
considers no-accounts, are accepted and blessed by God. While those
who count themselves fortunate, may not be. Things just aren’t what
they seem to our eyes!
"Blessed are you who are poor for the kingdom of God is yours."
How can this not be "pie-in-the-sky?" – Was Marx right when said
that religion is the opiate of the people? Many people suffer
economic setbacks. This was especially true after the recent 35-day
government shutdown. Thousands of lower-rank government employees
were put in severe financial stress because their families live from
paycheck to paycheck. When the paychecks stopped, many were forced
to borrow, choose between paying rent or medicines, missed mortgage
payments, etc. When Jesus blessed the poor he had people like these
in mind – those impoverished and marginalized, who belong to a
permanent underclass, unfairly deprived of essentials because of
discrimination, poor education, lack of medical essentials,
government disarray etc.
Whose side is God on in situations when the rich get their wealth
off the backs of the poor? The Beatitudes make it quite clear: God
stands with the poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted. Jesus declares
blest those who seem out of favor with God. What a reversal of our
usual world view. By themselves, there is nothing virtuous about
being poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted. Those disciples who
heard Jesus announce the Beatitudes on the plain, amid the crowd of
people, were being given a vision and a reminder, already
articulated by the Hebrew prophets, of God’s love and concern for
society’s least. In Jesus, God was fulfilling the promise of those
prophets. God came to live among the poor and announce glad tidings
to them. Woe to those who oppose God’s rule and Jesus’ message.
Jesus warned the comfortable and content that they ignored the
needs of others at their own risk; for when God comes to pass
judgment, those with much now will find themselves with nothing.
"Woe to you who are filled now…." Even in his "woes" Jesus
was implying good news to the comfortable and satisfied. He was
calling them to open their eyes and their ears to the world around
them and warning them that they didn’t have to undergo severe
judgment. There was time to change.
Is it possible that Jesus’ indictment of those who are now rich,
filled, laughing and esteemed is also an offer of grace? They are
not stuck, there is still time to wake up and accept God’s mercy,
turn their lives around and do the good things Jesus taught his
disciples gathered around him that day on the plain.
Jesus’ words today may have made us aware of changes we need to
make in our lives. We do not have to do that on our own because we
gather together in worship strengthened by the word we have heard
Jesus address to us his disciples. Soon we will stand with one
another at the altar. We, who hear the Beatitudes today and receive
the meal God has prepared for us, are given the grace to become
Beatitude people, easily recognized by the world as disciples of
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: