Today’s gospel speaks of the Beatitudes, perhaps one of the best-known teachings of Jesus. In truth, they create a conundrum. They describe a series of situations which our common sense tells us are not blessings. They speak of a way of being which is in contradiction with all that is considered good: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those weeping, those who are hated, excluded, insulted. How can these people leap for joy? The “woe to you” statements are just as disconcerting. This is a world turned upside down. Jesus seems to be telling us to lay aside our way of thinking, of evaluating. Jesus is always reminding us that God sees the world differently than we do, that God always wants to change our hearts and help us to be the very best that we can be. Since the world’s values are not the same as God’s, a real transformation in our way of thinking must occur. If we are to love as God loves, with total self-giving, then selfishness must be rooted out. Everything that the world values is really a form of selfishness.
So the question of what Jesus calls blessedness or blessing is really center stage now. The Dictionary of Biblical Theology edited by Xavier Leon-Dufour, SJ has a wonderful (long) description : “Blessing is a word as much as a gift … To bless is to speak a creative and (life giving) gift .” This is what Jesus is talking about – being able to see the blessing that God is speaking as coming into a situation filled with mystery and often confusion.
So, let us look again at the blessings Jesus mentioned in the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those weeping, those who are hated, excluded, insulted. How is this situation, this way of being, a blessing? I know from my experiences over the years of living and working with the poor, I’ve learned that often the poorest people are also the most generous and kind – they share what little they have freely with one another. There is always room for one more at the table or a place for someone extra to sleep in their house. These people often live day-to-day and don’t have the money to think about retirement or vacations or such things as this. I am not saying that they don’t wish at times that they had such a luxury, but they accept the fact that this is how life is. They have learned to be satisfied, and that what they have is enough. I am always so struck when they pray – because they praise and thank God for their blessings. They don’t complain about all that they don’t have. They feel blessed in the way that the bible describes. This contrast is an example of the blessing vs. woe we see described in the gospel today.
A person cannot live the values of the Beatitudes without trust. In the reading from Jeremiah we are reminded : “How blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord… whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters… He fears not…” Both Jeremiah and Luke remind us how essential trust is – it is our source of real interior peace. Only when we have such trust can we continue to know that God is with us – that God is in charge, that God has not abandoned us, that we do not need to fear. Such trust is a Gift from God, to be able to live without fear. This is life-giving and indeed , it is a Blessing.
-Sr. Corinne Yarborough
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