In Luke, Jesus gives his first major sermon, not from the top of a mountain. In fact, St. Luke tells us that Jesus came down from the mountain, and taught his disciples and this large group of people on a stretch of level ground. This passage of Luke’s Gospel is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, and is delivered immediately after spending a night in prayer and naming the 12 apostles.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain contain much of the same content, in fact, Luke’s version is a bit more down-to-earth, clearer and direct.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man."
Just four beatitudes compared to Matthew’s eight. And on the surface…this is a pretty strange teaching. Blessed are your when you are poor? Well, no one wants to poor. Everyone tries to get out of poverty. Blessed are you who are hungry? In Jesus’ day, to go hungry was a sign that you were cursed by God. Know one likes to be hungry. Blessed are you who weep? This is getting more masochistic as it goes on. Poor, hungry, now sad? We seek to escape sadness, depression, and grief. And the last one is even more dramatic. You are blessed when you are hated, persecuted, condemned as evil for being a follower of Jesus. Well…where do I sign up?
How do we begin to understand these odd teachings? Jesus certainly shakes-up the expectations of his audience. Christians are to view and treat the world differently. We aren’t to trust in the same things the worldly-minded trust in, we aren’t to hunger or crave or seek the same things as the worldly-minded because we recognize that nothing in the world can satisfy our deepest hunger for God. We get in trouble when we attach that deepest spiritual hunger to the things and ways of the world; we end up frustrated, exhausted, spiritually depleted, and even lost in sin.
This odd teaching requires we go a bit deeper though. Jesus uses this phrase “blessed are you” in each of these sayings. The Greek word for “blessed” is “Makarios”, the same as in Matthew’s Gospel. “Makarios” is often translated as blessed, happy, fortunate, or divinely joyful. The Greeks used to call the island of Cyprus “makaria” the Island of Joy. The Greeks felt Cyprus was like a high-end resort: so fertile, beautiful, pleasant, safe, peaceful, and rich in minerals and natural resources, that its inhabitants were completely self-sufficient. They had no need to travel or trade in order to live in perfect physical comfort. Maybe, Luke had this in mind in writing “Makarios”, that following Jesus’ teaching, you receive what is sufficient for making your way to the heavenly paradise.
Blessed, fortunate, divinely joyful, in possession of what is necessary for eternal life, are you when you are poor, that is, when you are not attached to or controlled by material things, but rather, when God is your greatest possession, when you do not allow the material things of the world to keep you from knowing, loving, and serving God.
So much of our sadness comes from allowing the things of the world to control us and distract us from what is most important in life. The world tells us that joy and happiness are obtained by amassing houses, cars, mobile devices, clothes and shoes, grander and more luxurious vacations. The devil loves to convince us to work harder and harder for these things, which may bring some temporary gratification, but in the end leaves us exhausted. The devil loves using worldly allurement to draw us away from that which truly gives us life--prayer, service, devotion, worship, and communion—that is genuine encounter with God, and genuine authentic human contact. So how blessed are you when you are poor, detached, dispassionate about the worldly and rich in the things of God.
Okay. Blessed, fortunate, divinely joyful are you when you are hungry. Hunger is linked to the sensual. So, how fortunate when you are not addicted to sensual pleasure. Food and drink and sex are good, and the ability to enjoy them in their proper context is good. Catholics are not puritanical. God pronounced these created things good. But good, in their proper context, moderated by reason. Pleasure is good, but not God. What sinful man tends to do, is to make them into gods. We attach our infinite desire for God to these created things and bend our wills to obtain them inordinately. But because these things do not satisfy our deepest desire for God, it’s no surprise that addictions emerge around these things: food addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, sex and pornography addiction—Addictions which cause great damage to the psyche, to families, and to souls.
But blessed are you when hunger, when you are detached from these sensual pleasures, when you don’t let the pursuit of physical pleasure control your life. Jesus came to set us free from slavery to the sensual.
Thirdly, Blessed, fortunate are you who now weep. The weeping of the righteous in scripture is often linked to the acknowledgement of sin. Isaiah cried out and wept: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips” Isaiah wept because he was unable to come into the presence of God because of his sins. And so, blessed are you when your recognize your sinfulness and weep for your sins and seek conversion.
What does the world weep over? Certainly not over offending God! One can’t help but think of the recent legalization of abortion up to and including the birth of the child in several states for any reason. As a kid, in popular culture there was at least some acknowledging that abortion was not ideal. The slogan was “make abortion safe, legal, and rare”. In 2019 we hear slogans like “shout your abortion” or “abortion on demand without apology”. People not weeping but reveling in the fact that innocent life is murdered. The world weeps not for the destruction of its moral compass.
Rather, Christians blessed are you when you weep over sin. We do well to make spiritual reparation through prayer and fasting for sins that cry out to heaven and for the conversion of those who revel over and celebrate sin.
And those who weep over sin, the Lord says, will one day laugh; those who acknowledge and repent of sin in this life will rejoice in the world to come.
And finally, blessed are you when you are persecuted for Christ. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” The world wants to silence the Christian Gospel, wants us to compromise the moral teachings of Jesus, to water down the content of the faith, to change what has been received from Christ and the apostles. And we will face resistance when we trust in Jesus.
But Jesus promises blessedness, eternal life, and joy to those who persevere in the truth, who are willing to undergo suffering to courageously defend, patiently explain, clearly articulate, and unambiguously live the Christian faith in the face of error and confusion and persecution. We proclaim the Gospel of Life in the midst of a culture of death, but we do so joyfully, knowing that our efforts are made for the glory of God and salvation of souls.