With a crowd hungry for a deeper relationship with God well-beyond the confines and restrictions of the Law, Jesus delivers a great sermon standing on a vast expanse at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus summarizes his teaching in what we have come to call the Beatitudes. There he identifies the struggles that his disciples will have with the world. In this version of the Beatitudes – as Luke’s account differs slightly from Matthew’s – those who chose the life of faithfulness, meekness and poverty are blessed indeed. But for Luke, Jesus emphasizes the “woes” for those who refused to understand, or even rejected the blessings. It is not enough to say that those who take up the task of the Beatitudes are blessed, it is important to announce that those who chose not to do so will not find such blessing.
To us this might sound harsh. Luke’s emphasis in the Beatitudes is not as poetic as is Matthew’s version with which we are more familiar. We like the Beatitudes as beautiful words on a poster or a banner, but we struggle to live them out on a daily basis.
The struggle to live these beatitudes in the world has become more difficult and not easier over time. The challenges and conflicts with the values and priorities of contemporary secular society draw a deeper line of mistrust and suspicion between us and them. Sadly, not all Christians stand united in our response to the demanding issues of our times. Disparity over immigration, marriage, abortion, health care and poverty leaves Christians confused as to the disparate voices, and enables the secularist full reign to violate the very principles of the natural law, and most certainly of these Beatitudes.
For those for whom wealth, status and power are most important, the Beatitudes are fanatical and fringe. To those who understand that reliance upon God and God’s mercy is of paramount importance, the Beatitudes resonate with the very rhythm of the universe itself.
The seeds of casting off faith and living with an agnostic or spiritual apathy are small indeed. They creep in, taking over subtly and quietly. To reject the Gospel message, which is the very source of our hope and salvation makes us, in Paul’s words, “pitiable indeed.”
In some ways it is the woe section of Luke’s presentation of the parables that makes his version perhaps less well-known. It is one thing to advance certain qualities as blessed, but it is another thing to at the same time offer warning to those whose lives and values are an abject rejection of the value.
The Beatitudes are not intended to make us feel good about the good that we do or the good that we think we are. The Beatitudes should make us squirm to the very depth of our souls. Jesus is demanding that we take a radical stance to life. That we extend ourselves to the other, not from our comfort zones, but as one who walks with the other. That is far more difficult to do. Like so much of Jesus’ teaching, and so often in Luke, Jesus sets us up with a feel good moment only to knock us between the eyes with the message.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]