Thought for the day
We all know from experience that happiness can be confused with all sorts of things — enjoyment, getting my own way, pleasure etc. We also all know— in our heart of hearts—that true happiness is not something that I have for myself but something that I am with others. Rather than something I possess, it is something that I am, with my values and vision. The paradox of human life is that we attain happiness not by aiming at it for ourselves but only making other people the focus of our lives and loves. In the words of St Paul: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Rom 13:8)
God of our happiness, give us the wisdom that you alone can give so that we also may be wise and come to life in abundance, according to your will. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus Teaches and Heals
Luke 6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Blessings and Woes
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Luke 6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
The Beatitudes are probably more familiar in the Matthew version, where he offers a rather longer list. Both Matthew and Luke drew on a Sayings Source (Q) of some 252 verses. They use the material differently—Matthew gathers some of the material into the Sermon on the Mount, using his eight or nine beatitudes as an introduction. Luke, however, leaves the material dispersed throughout the ministry and offers the beatitudes during the Sermon on the Plain (6:17). Nevertheless, the beatitudes function also here as an introduction to the Great Sermon, 6:17-49. The reader will notice that Luke has corresponding woes as well as beatitudes. Vv. 18 and 19, omitted in the lectionary, have been added, as they provide the Lucan setting more fully.
Kind of writing
In form, we have here beatitudes and woes, reflecting a Wisdom outlook. In content, we have the reversal of present conditions, reflecting an Apocalyptic outlook. It is probable that Luke has preserved the more original content of the beatitudes and Matthew the more original third-person format. It is possible that Luke’s third beatitude should be second. Extending that to include the woes, the Q version of the earliest form of the text may have read something like this:
Blessed are the poor,
for of them is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the mourners,
for they shall be consoled.
Woe to the rich,
for they have received consolation.
Woe to the satisfied,
for they will be hungry
Woe to the consoled,
for they will mourn.
Luke has shaped the Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49) into three sections, actually followed by the lectionary: Luke 6:20-26 (6C), vv. 27-38 (7C) and vv 39-49 (8C; the excerpt is vv. 39-45). Each section is indicated by Luke (vv. 20a, 27a and 39a).
Finally, in this Gospel, the beatitudes can be read Christologically: Jesus himself is poor (8:1-3, 9:58), he hungers (4:2; 24:41[!]), he weeps (19:41), he is despised and rejected (22:54, 63–64; 23:35–38, 39).
Old Testament background
There are many beatitudes in the Hebrew Bible. Today’s psalm, in its original (exclusive) language reads: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:1–2).
Beatitudes in general belong to the Wisdom strands of the Old Testament, reflecting popular experience of what “works” to make a person happy (Ps 1:1, 41:1; Prov 14:21; Sir 31:8). As such, OT beatitudes offer praise of a secular happiness, referring to earthly goods (e.g. 4 Macc 18:9). These seldom point beyond the present situation and only rarely does one find a reference to a future, messianic event (so perhaps in the messianic interpretation of Is 31:9). Often, these passages have a moralising function (e.g. Prov 3:13; Sir 14:1; 25:8; 26:1) and they can be quite platitudinous.
In the world of Jewish apocalyptic, however, beatitudes express a hope for end-time reversal and eternal bliss (Dan 12:12; Tob 13:14). For example: Blessed be they that shall be in those days, in that they shall see the good fortune of Israel which God shall bring to pass in the gathering together of the tribes (Psalms of Solomon 17.50) and Blessed are you righteous and elect ones; for glorious will be your lot (1 Enoch 58:2).
New Testament foreground
This Gospel contains five further beatitudes, peculiar to Luke.
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28)
Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37)
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15)
For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ (Luke 23:29)
Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:14–21)
Verse 17 In the immediately preceding scene, Jesus calls the Twelve, having just spent a night praying on a mountain. Like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain to address the people, represented in three groups, the apostles, the disciples and the multitude. In the contemporary idiom, Jesus meets people where “they are at.”
Verses 18-19 Jesus is shown as a prophet in word and deed. Healings and exorcisms are signs of the Kingdom. Touch: Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” (5:13) Power: One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. (5:17)
Verse 20 In the setting of Luke-Acts, this means the materially impoverished, the the victims of social and economic oppression, even though a spiritual frame cannot be excluded. E.g. 14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 21:2, 3. The promise of the kingdom is both a present and a future reality: 11:20; 16:16; 17:21.
Verse 21 The next two beatitudes spell out the experience of poverty. First of all, hunger, lack of food. And then, loss of significant people in your life leading to lack of support, isolation. Hunger: in this beatitude, Luke has bodily hunger in view: 11:20; 16:16; 17:21. The use of the passive voice indicates God as the one who will fill them. Cf. Isa. 49:9–10; 65:13; Ezek. 34:29; Ps. 17:14. Weeping: Luke has “weeping” instead of Matthew’s “mourning.” Weeping belongs to the typical language of Luke, occurring some 25 times. The turning of tears to joy is part of the vision of the en time: Isa. 49:9–10; 65:13; Ezek. 34:29; Ps. 17:14. Cf. Romans 12:14-21—perhaps Paul’s commentary on the Beatitudes.
Verse 22 This beatitude—an addition—reflects the later time of the church, when followers of Jesus were harassed. It also reflects the experience of exclusion from the synagogue. This is most likely not a formal exclusion but a practical one. Cf. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Verse 23 Joy is a major theme of Luke (12-3-20-18). Leaping for joy is mentioned also in birth narrative: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:41); For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:44).
Verses 24-26 The woes—which may to back to Q and Jesus himself—express the mirror opposite of the beatitudes. As such, they make for uncomfortable reading. Apart from the severe warnings therein, the woes take us back to the Magnificat and the sermon in Nazareth in Luke’s version. Magnificat: He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51–53) Nazareth: Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:17–19).
Heard deeply, the woes underline the Jubilee reversal of conditions, very much are the heart of the Lucan programme.
Pointers for prayer
1. We are told that Jesus “fixed his eyes on the disciples” before speaking. It suggests that he was about to say something that he really wanted them to take in. Surprisingly he then tells them it is no bad thing for us to be poor or hungry. But perhaps you have recognised the truth in what St. Augustine said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
2. “Blessed are you who weep” is not an encouragement to be miserable. Rather it is an affirmation of the importance of loving relationships in life. We are blessed to have such people in our lives, but there may also be pain. Yet is it not true that the blessing of loving and being loved is worth the price you pay?
3. Jesus said that his followers would be open to opposition and ridicule because of him, and they are blessed when this happens. Unpleasant it may, but have you not been grateful on those occasions when you had the courage to stand by something that you believed in?
O God, who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers, protect us from the lure of wealth and power; move our hearts to seek first your kingdom, that ours may be the security and joy of those who place their trust in you.
We make our prayer through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.