C Cycle – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
Lk. 6:17, 20-26
I do not know about you but when I first paid attention to the Beatitudes, they did not sound like blessings. Growing up in a poor household is harder than growing up in a household that does not have to struggle for food, clothes, and shelter. I traveled through out Asia, the Middle East and Africa and saw how hunger brings men, women, and children to despair, envy and yes even to lawlessness. After all, did not Jesus say he came to bring us fullness of life and now he is telling us we are blessed when we do not experience the fullness of life.
Jesus is not contradicting himself when he spoke these words and we should not ignore them just to make them fit our mindset of what brings us happiness. To understand the beatitudes, we need to read the scriptures in their entirety. The bible is a complete story, unfolding the plan of God for us; revealing God’s desire for us and showing us how to respond. If you have ever read a fictional thriller mystery you know it is filled with clues as the story builds to its completion. The author leads us and feeds us bits and pieces as they build up to the conclusion. God in the scriptures has given us a means to understand even the hardest of teachings and help us embrace a life that is constantly challenging us to trust and believe.
These hard words of the beatitudes just do not make sense if we only pay attention to the sad conditions in which we can find ourselves. There is nothing joyful about mourning, or being poor in spirit, or hungering for righteousness while we continue to sin. It would be wrong for us to ignore these hard words of Christ or weaken them by reading into them less than Jesus intended. For instance, we can look at the first three beatitudes and say they are telling us we will never find happiness in material things, pleasure, or power. Those things only drive us only to seek, more possessions, more pleasure, and more power. They cannot satisfy that deep longing in our hearts to feel God’s love.
Perhaps the fourth through sixth are where Christ is telling us we need to be and that is seeking virtue. We can server the poor, seek holiness by acts of piety, and feel good by becoming religious. Yet those things leave us feeling uncertain and doubting. We cannot earn what God offers us. If we are in control of our attaining blessings our hearts will never be transformed. Christ’s words are challenging our senses because we instinctively do not want to pa the price of discipleship. We have become like the rich young man who wants eternal life but will not sacrifice his lifestyle for it (Mk. 10:21). Christ continually challenges us to change our hearts. If we pay attention to today’s readings, we will discover the answer to why those things are blessings lies in Jesus’s words connection with the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from God” (Jer. 17:5-8). God has warned us from the beginning of time not to seek what only can be provided by God. Adam and Eve learned that lesson by seeking to become like God by eating from the tree of knowledge. We are seeking the same things by believing we can be righteous before God by being good. Jesus is telling we need to depend on something more than ourselves for us to feel the blessings of God. The harsh reality of life is we need to trust God and surrender our lives to Christ. We need a change our desire from wanting to be righteous to actively seek an encounter with Christ and the Spirit. Once we do that, we will discover the blessings flow out of our relationship with God. Once we do that, we will discover the blessings Jesus speaks are His presence with us.
What we are hearing in the beatitudes are the very things we try to avoid in life. They are the very things that make us hunger and thirst for righteousness. They are the very things which help us grow in faith and trust in God’s ability to strengthen us to depend on him instead of ourselves. We need God to open our eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to respond. Life’s tragedies cannot be avoided. They come to the righteous and the unrighteous because we life in a broken world where an enemy of God seeks to convince us we can find happiness on our own.
Listen to Paul, who was the one who persecuted the early Christians. He is telling us what he learned from his encounter with Christ. This is why we need to read the scriptures not just listen to them on Sundays. In his letter to Timothy, he speaks about the misguided desires of our hearts. He tells us we “…hold to a form of religion but deny the power of it” (2Tim. 3:5). He goes on to say, all who “…desire to live a godly life will be persecuted” (2Tim.3:12). But then he tells us the scriptures give us “…wisdom to live a life that leads to salvation in Christ” (2Tim.3:15) and how the scriptures are capable of “…equipping us for every good work” (2Tim. 3:17).
So, rejoice and be glad for we have everything we need to be blessed by God through the gift of his Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit given to us in the scriptures.