Today we’re talking blessings and woes, blessings meaning all the gifts and graces that God gives us, and woes, meaning the opposite, all the curses that we take upon ourselves. St. Francis said, for Jesus, everything is upside down. As far as Jesus is concerned, everything the world blesses is really a woe, a curse; and everything the world curses is really a blessing. His values are completely the opposite of the world’s.
Luke’s Beatitudes begin with a little geography. Instead of the Sermon on the Mount, as we have in Matthew, we have here the Sermon on the Plain. We are specifically told that a huge crowd has gathered around Jesus on “stretch of level ground.” Then we read, “And raising his eyes to his disciples, he said…” What does that mean? I think Jesus was kneeling down in prayer, with the crowd standing around him, and he looked up, almost begging them, kneeling before them, to hear his wisdom, his great sermon of nonviolence.
Then he announced: “Blessed are you who are the poor, for the reign of God is yours.” Blessed are the hungry and the weeping. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you and denounce your name as evil because you are trying to follow the Gospel of Jesus.
These are difficult and powerful sayings, but in a strange way, they’re very consoling because it means God is with us as we share the life of Jesus, as we try to share his poverty, his hunger, his tears, his suffering and persecution and crucifixion. When we do, we are blessed.
In particular, I like that Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the poor for the reign of God will be yours, or might be yours, or someday could be yours.” He says, “Blessed are the poor for the reign of God IS yours.” It’s yours right now, today, this very minute. It belongs to you. You may not have much, you may not have millions, but you have the one thing you need, the only thing that really matters, the reign of God. You live with God, so you are blessed.
But then, we have the woes. “Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are filled. Who to you who laugh. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you!” I think Jesus is saying that in this world of terrible poverty, widespread starvation, massive suffering, with 35 wars, with 25,000 nuclear weapons, with our country killing and occupying millions of suffering Iraqis, in this world of unjust death, if you’ve made it, if you are a success, if you are rich and comfortable and have everything you need, then you start not to need God, and before you know it, you are in grave trouble. You have everything but the one thing necessary–the reign of God. You are not blessed.
Here in New Mexico, we have all had times in our lives when we have been poor, in one way or another. We have all had times in our lives when we have been hungry (and next week, as we begin the Holy Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, we‘re all going to fast and be hungry). We’ve all had times in our lives when we have wept and been sorrowful. We’ve all had times when people have hated us or excluded us or insulted us or denounced us because of our stand for the Gospel of Jesus.
Given all of that, did you hear the new commandment that Jesus issues to us this morning? “Rejoice! Leap for joy!” He wants us to rejoice when these things happen because we are headed for heaven, because we are sharing in his life, because we are greatly blessed.
So you’re homework assignment this week is to leap for joy! Let’s all practice being joyful! Let’s get ready for joy, because from now on, you are blessed. The reign of God is yours.