Today’s Gospel reading presents the Beatitudes to us. But this is not the list that is familiar to most of us. Most of us are familiar with the version of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. The version we have just heard comes from Luke.
There is 1 important difference between the 2 versions. In Matthew, there are 8 beatitudes. In Luke, there are 4 “blesseds” followed by 4 “woes”. Each “woe” statement is the opposite of the “blessed” statement.
When we reflect on each beatitude alongside its opposite woe, it becomes clear that Jesus is giving us a blueprint for Christian discipleship. It is true that the Kingdom of God will find its ultimate fulfillment in heaven (as the 4 beatitudes make abundantly clear). All forms of pain, sorrow and suffering in this life will be overturned in the next. However, Jesus’ key message is that, in order to be his disciples, we have to adopt the values of the Kingdom of God right now here on this earth. Jesus is identifying 4 mindsets that are essential in order to build up a society based on Kingdom values in our own time.
The1st mindset is revealed by the 1st Beatitude and the 1st woe: to be a disciple of Jesus is (to use the words of Vatican II) to have a “preferential option for the poor”.
The 1st Beatitude is: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”. Unlike Matthew, Luke does not use the term “poor in spirit”. He uses the term “poor”. Here, Jesus’ focus is not on spiritual poverty; Jesus is concerned about the material and physical circumstances of people’ s lives in this world. Jesus is not glorifying economic poverty. It’s the opposite.
When we consider the 1st woe (“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation”), Jesus is condemning financial poverty since it causes people to become destitute. Poverty is never God’s will.
On the other hand, money is not inherently evil. It’s how we use money that determines whether it’s an evil or not in our lives. Evil occurs when money possesses us to the extent that we become addicted to wealth, consumerism and material possessions. Jesus is teaching that we ought to use our material blessings to improve the plight of those who have less. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser puts it this way: “All of us will need a reference letter from the poor to get into heaven”.
The 2nd mindset is revealed by the 2nd Beatitude and the 2nd woe: to be a disciple of Jesus is to respect the inherent human dignity of all peoples. Every person has the right to the fundamental necessities of life: food, water, housing, health care.
The 2nd beatitude is: “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled”. Unlike Matthew, Luke is not addressing those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His focus is those who experience real physical hunger. Jesus is speaking out strongly against the distress and misery caused by not having enough to eat.
The 2nd woe is: “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry”. Jesus encourages us not to be so caught up in worldly attachments and worldly pleasures that we become blind to the basic life sustaining and life enhancing needs of others.
September 9 is also the feast day of St. Peter Claver. He was a Spanish Jesuit who lived from 1580 – 1654. As the missalette, Living with Christ points out, “he was sent to work in Cartegena in South America, then, the centre of the slave trade. There, Peter tended to newly arrived Africans with food, water and medicine. For nearly 40 years, he ministered tirelessly to the slaves and pleaded for their humane treatment”. In this regard, St. Peter Claver gives us an inspirational example of this 2nd mindset.
The 3rd mindset is revealed by the 3rd beatitude and the 3rd woe: to be a disciple of Jesus is to respond in generous service to those who have any affliction in body, mind, heart or soul. The 3rd beatitude is: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh”. The 3rd woe is: “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep”.
Jesus is asking his followers to show care, concern and compassion towards the brokenness and woundedness of others. The Christian disciple is never to neglect the sufferings and sorrows of others. Unemployment, addiction, sickness, disease, bereavement and any other situation where tears are shed are all opportunities for the follower of Jesus to reach out to those in need.
The 4th mindset is revealed by the 4th beatitude and the 4th woe: to be a disciple of Jesus is to remain faithful to the Gospel at all times – both when it is convenient and popular as well as when it is inconvenient and unpopular.
The 4th beatitude is: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man”. There will be times when our commitment to Jesus and the values of the Gospel will lead us to reject the values of our culture. Consequently, we may be abused, despised, rejected and excluded by others, even by those whom we love.
The 4th woe is: “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets”. In order to be genuine followers of the Lord, we ought to be vigilant not to be sidetracked from the Gospel by the pursuit of honor, prestige, power and the good opinion of others.
Once again, St. Peter Claver can be a spiritual role model for us. In the 1600s, South America was territory that belonged to Spain. In order to promote Spanish colonialism, Spanish laws permitted and encouraged the slave trade. It was permissible by law to view people of another race and ethnicity as inferior and to mistreat them through abduction, starvation, dehydration, unsanitary living conditions, forced labour and other cruelties.
For Peter Claver, the Gospel of Jesus Christ trumped the political, legal, economic, social and religious values of his day. His decision brought him into direct conflict with the civil authorities as well as with the members of his own religious community. Nonetheless, for almost 4 decades, this priest did everything in his power to care for marginalized people he considered to be his brothers and sisters.
When our beliefs are at odds with the popular culture around us, let us follow St. Peter Claver’s example: let us remain firm, steadfast and unwavering in our faith.
As our Mass continues, let us ask Jesus for his help and his strength to integrate into our daily lives these 4 mindsets that are essentially for building up the Kingdom of God in Sudbury in 2020.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
September 9, 2020