Sister Clare Carr, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26
The beatitudes were an ancient formula that encouraged people to do good. As we hear in our Responsorial Psalm, “Blessed is the one who does not take the wicked for his guide, nor walks the road that sinners tread.”
Psalm 41 says, “Blessed are those who consider the poor. The Lord will deliver them in time of trouble.” Jeremiah 17 has “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, he is like a tree planted (next to) living water that sends out it roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green.”
Beautiful and numerous are the Hebrew Scriptures. They say that if you do this or that good thing, you will receive blessings. So, people were not surprised when Jesus used them in his teaching.
This fall I had the opportunity to be on a 30-day retreat. It was a powerful experience, being with Jesus, the scriptures, and the presence of the spirit. I became more aware and appreciative of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. Each blessing said that this was a portrait of Jesus, and a profile and lifestyle to which Jesus is calling you and me.
Jesus’s life reflected being poor in spirit – he frequently sought quiet and prayer. He mourned – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,“ (Matthew 23:37). He was meek in the face of humiliation. He hungered for righteousness – as he faced the injustice of slavery among his people. He was merciful – with the woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years and the healing of Jairus’ daughter. He was the pure of heart – Jesus had a heart for the promise of new kingdom, a kingdom where the lion can lay with the lamb. Jesus was a peacemaker – he was, as are the many who have followed in his steps: Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa. They all knew what it was like to be among the oppressed and to be hated.
And finally, blessed are those who revile you – well, we all know where the message of the Kingdom led Jesus. To the cross!
As hard as the Beatitudes are, I believe that they are to bring us comfort in the Gospel of Matthew.
But the Gospel of Luke takes a different notion of Blessings. Luke speaks of four blessings and four woes. With this take on the Beatitudes I believe Jesus’ goal was to make his disciples and us uncomfortable. As in Mathew’s gospel Luke says, I am blessed in my poverty, in my hunger, in my mourning, and in being hated. Excluded and insulted, this is the place where our vulnerability and the profile of Jesus can be recognized. In our vulnerability is the space where only God can come. John Foley says it well, “A person has to be open and empty to let God and others come in. To love and be loved we need to have space at the center of who we are.” Struggles can help us to open up to the sufferings of all. It is my brokenness that I can encounter the brokenness that you carry. I can become one with you.
Jesus challenges the comfortable. “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” Woe to you!! What does this mean for us?
Would not most of us who live in this country admit that we live in affluence? Many of us do not go without a meal. We have shelter, transportation, and safety.
The general theme of the Gospel of Luke is that you are not to be filled at the expense of others. Filled with stuff–food, drink, pride, drugs, fame, sex etc., etc., etc. Instead, we are invited to be empty, to become a spacious home for God, for other human beings, and the long-suffering earth. Woe to us who have much, so that others do not. As in an old quote found on our banners in the 80’s, it is an invitation to live simply, so others can simply live.