The Beatitudes — Hope and Reality

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We do our best to avoid pain — physical, emotional, psychological. When we do something that entails pain as sometime happens, we do so with the hope that it can make us happy. Ultimately, the attainment of happiness is our goal in whatever we do. In the gospel reading (Lk. 6:17,20-26), Jesus gives us His programme for happiness for all peoples — the Beatitudes.

Not mentioned in the reading is what happened earlier. Jesus was up the whole night praying in the mountain. At daybreak, he named His twelve apostles. When they went down the mountain a big crowd awaited Him. To them Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes — described by scholars as the Charter of the Kingdom. These details (except the naming of the Twelve) call Moses to mind, who after spending 40 days and nights praying in a mountain, went down and then proclaimed the Ten Commandments — the moral compass of the Chosen People.

The people to whom Jesus addressed the Beatitudes were a diverse and pathetic lot. They lived in difficult circumstances, burdened by all sorts of problems and cares. In short, they were people like you and me.

Unlike Matthew's Beatitudes, Luke's is followed by corresponding `Woes.' Those `blessed' extol the fortunate condition of persons who are favored with God's blessings — the poor – will inherit God's kingdom; the hungry - will be satisfied; the weeping – will laugh; and the hated – will leap for joy. On the other hand, the `woe–ed' are those threatened with God's profound displeasure — the rich – have had their consolation; the filled now – will be hungry; the laughing now – will grieve and weep; the well spoken of now – will be treated like the false prophets, that is, rejected.

From this, we can see that the Beatitudes and Woes address the whole socio–cultural, economic and political condition of humankind. And in God's Kingdom it is the rejected, the forgotten and the despised — those with the least going for themselves — who will find rest and consolation in the Kingdom.

Jesus' life is the best commentary on the Beatitudes. He experienced poverty – He had nowhere to lay His head. He experienced hunger – He fasted for 40 days and night in a mountain. He wept at the loss of His dear friend Lazarus and over the impending destruction of His beloved Jerusalem. He was treated like a fool by soldiers and betrayed and abandoned by His friends during His passion. All these He did not seek; they were the outcome of a life dedicated to God.

Yet Jesus remained happy. And so must we. Which brings us to what the Beatitudes are all about. They do not extol poverty and misery. Otherwise Jesus would have said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for you will be poorer.” Rather, they are addressed to those who commit themselves to the Kingdom. And the deprivations and sufferings that result from our following of Jesus will be amply rewarded.

If we look deeply into ourselves, we will discover ourselves as we really are — filled with cares and pains, insecurities, uncertainties, fears, doubts, etc. In fact the only thing we can call our own are our sins. Confronted with our absolute poverty and realizing our inability to do anything about it, we then become open to something outside of ourselves — ultimately, to God's saving grace. How welcome then is Jesus' conclusion after proclaiming the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day. Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

Why blessed? Why rejoice? Because having been poor, hungry, grieving and hated, we know that God remains committed to keep His promises to us. This makes hope well up in our hearts. And when we live this hope, we proclaim that others can do likewise. And we are credible because we ourselves have suffered and yet continue to trust in God's promises.

The hope that Jesus gives us is in view of the happiness He offers which coincides with the riches of Gods' Kingdom. Our cares, fears, insecurities and pains will not go away; neither can we wish them away. But with the Beatitudes, we are urged to face them squarely and with optimism because the Kingdom of God will be ours. The Beatitudes in effect offer hope amidst our sufferings and in the eventual possession of the fullness of God's Kingdom. This is what living the Beatitudes are all about.

Thus we can be poor, hungry, weeping and hated, yet remain happy. This because our hope lies in a God who always keeps His promises. Ultimately, God's fidelity amidst our poverty and misery is the basis of the acceptability and relevance of the Beatitudes to our human condition. How right then was the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream” (Jer. 17:7-8).