Gospel reflection for Feb. 13, 2022, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In his Gospel, St. Luke has a slightly different version of the Beatitudes than the more well-known version as recorded by St. Matthew. While in essence the same, there are some marked differences between the two. It is interesting that for what many consider to be the highlight of the teaching of Jesus there are different versions. To be fair, St. Luke has a different context for this sermon than does St. Matthew, so it might indeed be a different event all together. It is likely, as I have said in the past, that Jesus delivered similar sermons and parables at multiple locations during the course of his ministry. Like any seasoned speaker, Jesus adapted his preaching to his immediate audience. We see this throughout the Gospels. Jesus does not speak the same to the large crowds as he does to the Pharisees and Sadducees. This is common with many itinerant preachers and other public speakers even today.

In keeping with an undercurrent throughout Luke’s account, we see here an emphasis on the so-called Hebrew “anawim” or the “hoi polloi” in the Greek New Testament. Throughout the prophetic utterances in the Old Testament the Lord extended his mercy in a special way for those who knew that they relied solely upon him for their sustenance and most certainly for his mercy. These are the people of faith. They recognize in their humility that they genuinely depend upon God for every breath they take as they live each moment of their lives. While often seen in economic terms, emphasizing the simple understanding of what it means to be poor, it does really go further than that. “God’s poor” seek not their own interests but those of the community knowing all as gift from God. These poor live in humble reliance upon God for all they are and have.

After first identifying the poor Jesus then emphasizes those who hunger. This hunger can and does happen on many levels. While many of us think principally of those who lack food, there is also an undercurrent of recognizing those who long for the faith and relationship that the poor have. In a sense we long to be poor, to have what they have and we do not – that sense of being totally reliant upon God. This is itself a great blessing, one that many of us lack. When we replace hunger with greed, as so easily can happen, we are concerned about amassing things, relationships, and accolades to the detriment of our relationship with God.

Jesus identifies those in the future – both short term and distant – who sacrifice their lives, their livelihoods, their reputations, their opportunities for worldly advancement for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus promises to his faithful followers not glory, but suffering; not fame by ignominy.

In keeping with the ancient prophetic tradition Jesus also offers a warning. This is expressed in the following “woe to you” statements that correspond directly to the “blessed are you” that preceded them. This “woe section” of the sermon recognizes that at the time of Jesus, and even among the Jewish people, there were those who had abandoned any sense of reliance upon God. Jesus turns the tables on the smug, the self-important, and those who think they have it all together, who know the fame and fortune of this world. They have no perceived need for God, as they have it all – but they have little and what little they have will come to nothing.

The same is true not only of the rich but also of those who, though not rich, were able to satisfy their own needs. Today we might call them middle class. For them life was comfortable but not luxurious. Many of them cared little for the plight of the poor and destitute. This is particularly distressing when we understand that many of them lived better as adults than they did when they were children. Even today, this can be the most difficult group of people to get to understand a sense of interdependence and certainly a reliance on God. Many of them see themselves as self-made. They came from poverty and have no desire to look back. They are often insensitive out of the hubris that says “I could do it, so should they.”

Jesus warns all of them, but probably especially those who had “sold out” their own heritage to the Romans for the short-term benefits of commerce, status, and wealth. Those days will be over soon. Less than a generation after Jesus utters these words, Jerusalem lie in ruins.

Those who today, compromise our faith for the sake of power or wealth certainly run that same risk.

We walk a balanced life as disciples of Jesus Christ. Many of us are successful because we have worked hard and made it in the world. Yet we are reminded constantly that it is God’s mercy alone that sustains us, and that all we have and have accomplished can be gone in an instant.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.