We begin the sixth week of Ordinary Time. The readings this Sunday describe that true happiness, or beatitude, is found in our awareness of who we are and what we are supposed to be. The readings remind us that we are all children of God, and that we will be happy in this world and in heaven only when we acknowledge and share our blessings with one another, people in need. The eight Beatitudes Jesus gives us in Matthew and the four He gives us in Luke contradict the ideas of real happiness found in the Jewish culture and in our modern society, according to which wealth, health, power and influence are the indicators of true happiness. But the Beatitudes teach us that true happiness is actually found in our personal relationship with God and our caring for others.
Jeremiah, in the first reading, talks about blessings and curses. He compares the wicked with a barren bush in the desert and the just to a well-watered tree growing near a running stream. In essence, the reading teaches us that if we choose God as our hope, our security, are be rooted in Him, we will be blessed, and truly happy. Such a person will continue to grow, prosper, and bear fruit. On the other hand, if we choose human standards as our guides, ourselves as our source of security and the meeting of our own needs and desires as our happiness, we will find ourselves living in increasing misery and confusion, that is, in woe. Jeremiah tells us that the only source of lasting happiness is trust in God and hope in His promises.
Paul writes that trust and hope in the resurrection of Jesus are the basis of our faith, of our own resurrection and of our own eternal bliss. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are now welcomed into a new relationship with God as His sons and daughters, and with each other as dear brothers and sisters. This means that all the blessings of the Beatitudes are now available to us, provided that we choose to follow them; for they codify, so to speak, the pattern of living that Jesus has established for us to follow.
In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs His disciples in the paradoxical blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow and persecution because they contradict our natural desires and expectations in every way. Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and denounced, because in poverty, we recognize God’s reign; in hunger, His providence; in sorrow, true happiness; and in persecution, true joy. Experiencing these miseries opens the way for us to receive the true riches, food, comfort and acceptance we can find only in His love and His presence here, and in His Kingdom forever. The Beatitudes are instructions for how we should live and what we should do. What makes one blessed is not simply poverty or hunger or sadness or suffering for faith, but living these in the context of our commitment to Jesus and in His spirit of sharing.
The question is, if the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the hated are all blessed, then why should anyone attempt to help them improve their life? The answer is that there is a difference between choosing poverty and being plunged into it against one’s choice due to an unjust socio-political situation or other uncontrollable factors. There are a few, only a few, saints like Saints Francis of Assisi, Damien, and Theresa of Calcutta, who freely chose the suffering and hardship that poverty brings. However, this is not what the Beatitudes suggest, nor is it what Jesus asks of most of us. It is true that we are unable to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth. But we can help our suffering brothers and sisters to improve their living conditions either directly or by working with others.
Luke’s account offers the rich the good news that their salvation lies in their concern for the poor and in the good stewardship of sharing their goods with others in need. In short, in the Beatitudes that Jesus envisions, there is a society where the resources which belong to all are shared. “Wealth is a blessing,” Saint Theresa of Calcutta said, “a blessing from God. God has entrusted us with it so that we might share it with others, with the less fortunate brothers and sisters.” It is in true sharing and caring for others we experience true blessedness. Sharing is important, Saint John of the Cross says, “At the end of our lives we will be judged on our love.