My Dear Parishioners:
(1) In the Beatitudes Jesus is not expressing a pious wish for something entirely unreal and outside of history. As they are presented in St Luke’s version, they are, to say the least, controversial. They are a challenge thrown down to us, because so much of what we see contradicts these statements. People who are poor and hungry, people who are weeping are not happy. What Jesus says is that if they really understand the situation they are in before God, they will be glad. Wealth and a full stomach are not a recipe for misery. But Jesus warns those who are comfortable that if they really understood their situation, they would not be so happy. The things that are most important are not being poor or rich, being hungry or well-fed. This is a truth that most people accept in a notional way, or as a pious wish. Jesus invites us to begin to base or behavior on it.
(2) People often feel morally guilty about their use of bad language. They may feel obliged to confess that they have been “cursing.” Yet in today’s first reading we hear: “a curse on the man who…” This “curse “is really intended as a warning. It is not intended as a prayer that really wishes ill to anyone in particular. What is forbidden most of all by the command not to “curse” is wishing or still worse praying for ill against a particular person – and so committing such an ill against them in your heart. The “woes” here are not curses, but an expression full of the regret, pity and sorrow that Jesus showed when he wept over Jerusalem. Bad language sometimes conveys an element of real wishing for another’s ill. More often it may offend against the spirit of the Beatitudes by dishonoring or humanity, by taking from the dignity and respect that is due to other people, and indeed to ourselves.
(3) St Luke has taken some pains to emphasize that Jesus’ words are addressed to the poor, the hungry, the suffering now. There are plenty of people in the world who are poor, hungry, and suffering now. Perhaps we are among them? If so, the Beatitudes are addressed especially to us. It may still take a mighty movement of faith for us to see that the kingdom of God really does transform our situation. If there is little faith in our lives before suffering touches us, we will find faith hard to summon up when the day comes.
(4) If we cannot honestly count ourselves among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering, we can do more than just take to heart the warnings that follow. We can remember that the beatitudes here are especially addressed to the poor and hungry. We can take up the invitation to do something about the situation of the poor and hungry. We can recall that we, the comfortable people with resources at our command that are denied to others, are called to be the instruments of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is one of justice, love and peace. For justice, love and peace, there is a price to pay.