Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jesus' "way" or that of the world? (Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 6:17, 20-26, "The Beatitudes")

“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.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false

* * * * * * * * *

The Sermon on the Mount which contains the so-called “Beatitudes” has some of what are perhaps the most puzzling words of Jesus in the Bible. If we read each of the Beatitudes carefully, we will notice that each one seems to be the complete opposite of how we normally understand what being “blessed” or “happy” means. For how indeed can “poverty” make one happy? How can hunger, meekness, mercy, peace-making, persecution, and bearing insult make one happy?

On the surface, the sermon seems more like a recipe for disappointment and frustration instead of happiness. And as a guide for living a good life, they seem more like instructions for failure rather than fulfillment and success. Not only do they seem difficult, if not impossible, they actually sound a bit unreasonable.

The fact, however, is that the Sermon on the Mount shows how Jesus understands the incompatibility of the standards of this world with the standards of God’s kingdom. “The ways of the world are not God’s ways”. The way of the world can never lead us to heaven.

In effect, what Jesus is saying is that the things the world holds dear, heaven usually holds in contempt; and the things the world detests, heaven usually holds in high regard. The values of this world are different from the values of God’s Kingdom, and those of us who seek entry into this kingdom must learn to keep our sight on its lasting values. We have to hold on to these values, however difficult it can sometimes be.

The so-called ‘Beatitudes’ in today’s gospel brings us face to face with a choice we must make throughout our lives. Do we take the easy way which yields immediate pleasure and profit? or, will we take the hard way which yields immediate toil and sometimes suffering? Do we concentrate on the rewards of this world? or, do we concentrate on Christ? If we take the way of the world, we cannot but abandon the values of Christ. If we take Christ's way, we must abandon the values of the world.

Jesus had no doubt which way brought happiness ultimately. As one Christian writer said, "Jesus promised his disciples three things--that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble."

While we must all try to make the world a better place, the fact remains that it isn’t our real home. It is Jesus' teaching that the joy of heaven will be more than enough to compensate for our troubles here on earth. As Paul says, “The afflictions we experience here are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2Cor.4:17).

The challenge of the beatitudes is simple: "Will I be happy according to the way of the world, or according to the way of Christ?

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)