– Famous Gospel of the Beatitudes…Yet not that famous. Since we are in Year C “Luke’s year”, we have heard this morning Luke’s version of the Beatitudes which is quite different from Matthew’s, the best loved one: “Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the meek…”
Luke’s beatitudes are shorter, more straightforward / there is more density and focus and it seems to concentrate on very concrete issues (poverty, hunger, depression/sadness and rejection). Luke’s version is “down to earth” (if you will) whereas Matthew’s is more “spiritual”.
There are two reasons for that I think:
– Luke’s Gospel is known as the Gospel of the poor and the despised (the women, the sick) / when Matthew is more oriented towards building a Christian community.
– Luke was believed to be a doctor, so he was used to deal with concrete issues and people’s bodies: Hungry bodies, bodies suffering from sickness (He openly mentions some taboos of his time, like women’s bleeding for example), bodies suffering from exposure and depression (even if the term was not invented yet!), bodies suffering from torture and mistreatment…
And so Luke’s Gospel puts us in touch with the concrete suffering that’s going on in our world!
Which asks us to be very concrete in return with our faith and in the way we practice it…
Luke assures that all those who suffer in their bodies, would it be from hunger, sickness, depression or rejection are seen by God and, more than that, that God blesses them.
What does it mean? Well, blessedness is not necessarily about winning the lottery, or even giving birth to beautiful children or having a great job. We often make of the fact of being blessed a synonymous of being lucky/ successful. But blessedness can be very different from being lucky/successful – and this is maybe the reason why Luke chooses those examples of people who are obviously not lucky/successful. Blessedness is about our ability to experience God’s presence with us, to be made part of the kingdom, to be used for God’s purpose. A few weeks ago, we blessed our cars on the parking lot. We may see it as a protection against accidents but mostly, when we bless a person, an animal or a thing, it is about asking God to use it to God’s purpose. It does not mean – as some may believe – that it makes us God’s little soldiers. More deeply, being blessed mean that we are where God is to be found and experienced. – and that is the deep meaning and true joy in life. The Greek authorizes to translate blessedness as “True joy” / We read in some translations “Happy are the poor”…
Happiness is not to be found in poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection themselves, but in the way God can visit us in those experiences. God is not to be found by looking up at the sky. God is present with the people who suffer and struggle.
Why? How comes that in those difficult experiences God can be found?
I think, once again, it has something to do with our bodies. Two weeks ago, I attended a retreat based on yoga, and our instructor who is also a priest, told us we need to listen to what our bodies tell us because: “Our heads can talk us in and out of basically anything, when our bodies cannot lie”.
Jeremiah puts it like this today, he says: “The heart is devious above all else” / We keep telling ourselves the stories we want to believe. But if we pay attention, our bodies will tell us what is really going on. Like sometimes when we think we’re fine with something, except our stomach is filled with knots.
– The blessedness in the experiences of hunger, sickness, sorrow and rejection, when we are in touch in the materiality and fragility of our bodies, is that we can learn who we are / how to be real. We realize our poverty and our inability to have control over our destiny, and yet, this is when we can make room for God, feel our need for God. It is not that God is happy if we realize that we are miserable because God wants to be God and desires us to stay at our place, it is because God indeed created us for God and for one another and if we want to lead our lives ignoring that, we are heading to a very dark place / we will lose true happiness.
This is also the sense of the curses.
I love it that Luke adds curses (Matthew does not do that!), because the curses really explain what it is all about. When we are detached from our hunger, the uncertainty of our life, when we think everybody approves what we do and we can live selfishly in an ignorant bliss, we miss out on God because we don’t live in the truth. We live in an illusion – pursuing happiness where it is not to be found, trying to fill our lives in an exhausting quest.
The more I think about Christian life, the more I think the only thing God asks of us is to be real.
Jesus often calls Satan the “Father of lies”. Satan wants us to believe our illusions when God wants us to experience what is real. To be real with our hunger, with our deepest longings, to be real with seeing the limits of the things we possess and the false security money gives us, to be real in the feelings we experience and in the way we express our emotions (not pretending to laugh when we want to cry) we need to be real in our human relationships and in the way we testify about what we truly believe in. Jeremiah uses the image of a tree that is well grounded, and this is what a Christian should look like: Grounded in reality. It does not mean we don’t have dreams! It means we don’t lie to ourselves, to one another or to God and so we can be really present / in each other’s presence. (And maybe to make these dreams happen, instead of just dreaming them).
Interestingly, Luke mentions that as Jesus preached those things, he healed people. Well, we know that lies, secrets and illusions can make us really sick, it’s not only about knots in our stomach. Hiding who we are is not God’s will for us, we are meant to live truly and fully.
So what about the curse? Well, yes, if we refuse to be real – we are cursed. But it does not mean that God is going to punish us because God will be unhappy that we misbehaved! God does not punish us, but as Jeremiah points out with this example of the tree, is that there is a law to life! And the law of life is that, if we live in selfishness with the illusion of being alone in the world and not needing anything, we are like a tree without water and we are going to die inside! It’s not a punishment, it’s just the consequence of our actions because indeed we are meant for each other and for God, as a tree is meant for water and reasonable heat! When I moved in my office here, I got a palm tree because I love plants. But a few days ago, I realized that I clearly underestimated how much water it needed, I noticed it was all drying up. Yet I don’t believe God is punishing me because I have not been good at watering the tree…The tree is dying because it needed water is all!
Jesus often says in John’s Gospel that he is the living water. Isn’t it a beautiful way to say that Jesus is exactly what we need so we can grow and thrive and give glory to God by the beauty of our lives? Jesus is God’s blessing among struggles and sufferings, looking at Jesus, following Jesus and giving our hearts to Jesus leads us to be those wonderful human beings – not because they’re perfect, not because they look good – wonderful human beings because by being fully engaged / present, they too can become blessings to others and to the world. Amen.