Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
“How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.”
“Your reward will be in heaven.”
Reading 1 1 COR 7:25-31
In regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord,
but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
So this is what I think best because of the present distress:
that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is.
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation.
Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.
If you marry, however, you do not sin,
nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries;
but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life,
and I would like to spare you that.I tell you, brothers, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
Responsorial Psalm PS 45:11-12, 14-15, 16-17
Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear,
forget your people and your father’s house.
So shall the king desire your beauty;
for he is your lord, and you must worship him.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
All glorious is the king’s daughter as she enters;
her raiment is threaded with spun gold.
In embroidered apparel she is borne in to the king;
behind her the virgins of her train are brought to you.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
They are borne in with gladness and joy;
they enter the palace of the king.
The place of your fathers your sons shall have;
you shall make them princes through all the land.
R. Listen to me, daughter; see and bend your ear.
Alleluia LK 6:23AB
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Rejoice and leap for joy!
Your reward will be great in heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 6:20-26
Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:
“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.
But 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
prophets in this way.”
Commentary on Luke 6:20-26 From Living Space
Today we begin what is known as Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which more or less parallels Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s is much shorter but both begin with the Beatitudes and end with the parable of the house builders. Some of what is found in Matthew’s Sermon is found elsewhere in Luke as Matthew’s ‘Sermon’ it consists of disparate sayings of Jesus gathered into one place. Luke also omits Matthew’s specifically Jewish material which would not have been relevant to his Gentile readers.
The Sermon can be summarised as follows:
An introduction of blessings and woes (20-26)
The love of one’s enemies (27-36)
The demands of loving one’s neighbour (37-42)
Good deeds as proof of one’s goodness (43-45)
A parable on listening to and acting on the words of Jesus (46-49).
Similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke begins the Sermon on the Plain with his version of the Beatitudes. But there are striking differences. Whereas Matthew has eight (some would say seven) Beatitudes, Luke has four “Blesseds” and four contrasting “Woes”. As is typical of his uncompromising style when it comes to following Jesus, the language of Luke is much more direct and hard-hitting and it may well be closer to what Jesus actually said.
Matthew’s Beatitudes propose a set of attitudes which reflect the spirit of the Kingdom, qualities to be found in the truly Christian and human life. Luke, on the other hand, speaks of material conditions in this life which will be overturned. Later in this gospel, this is illustrated graphically in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:25).
Luke also has Jesus speak in the second person: “Blessed are you” and “Woe to you” rather than in the third person as Matthew does (“Blessed are those who…”). Nor does he speak of the “poor in spirit” but of “you who are poor” and he certainly means the materially poor.
He goes on to say how blessed too are “you who are hungry; you who weep; you who are hated and who are rejected and marginalised and whose name is regarded as evil” because of their connection with Jesus. Undoubtedly Matthew’s Beatitudes can be read to consider just ‘spiritual’ poverty and a hunger for ‘righteousness’, which in fact are also a form of real poverty and real hunger but Luke is a gospel for the materially poor and distressed and we must be careful not to turn our focus away from them. That is why he has Jesus born in poverty and dying naked and destitute (even of his ‘friends’).
Jesus tells those who are poor and hungry and abused to rejoice when that happens and “dance for joy”. There are two reasons:
- because their reward will be “great in heaven” and
- because that is the way the prophets in the past were treated (and the way Jesus the Prophet will also be treated).
At a first reading, it seems like a classical example of religion as the ‘opium of the people’: Be happy that you are having such a hard time now because there is a wonderful future waiting for you in the next world. It was the message that Karl Marx mocked the capitalist-ruled churches of preaching to the exploited ‘proletariat’.
And the second part is not likely to go down well in our contemporary developed world. “”Woe to you who are rich [he can’t be serious!], you have received your comfort already.” “Woe to you who are full, because you will be hungry; woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep; woe to you who are spoken well of. That is how they treated the false prophets.”
How are we to understand these sayings which turn our common worldview upside down? I think they have to be seen in the light of the Kingdom, in the kind of society that Jesus came to set up, a society based on mutual love and sharing and support. A Kingdom for this world and not just the next. The coming of such a society could only be good news for the poor and destitute (material and otherwise), for those suffering from hunger (physical and otherwise), for those depressed by deep sorrow and for those abused and rejected for their commitment to Jesus and his Way.
On the other hand it would not be good news for those self-focused people who amass material wealth at the expense of others, who indulge in excessive consumption of the world’s goods, who live lives centred on personal hedonism and pleasure, and who feed off the envy and adulation of those around them. There is really no place for such people in the Kingdom. To enter fully into the Kingdom they have to unload all these concerns and obsessions and let go. Instead of focusing on what they can get; they will focus on what they can share of what they have.
A clear example is of the rich young man in the Gospel. How rich he was – and yet how sad he was! Compare him with Zacchaeus, whom we will be meeting later on.
Lectio Divina from The Carmelites
• The Gospel today presents four blessings and four curses in Luke’s Gospel. There is a progressive revelation in the way in which Luke presents the teaching of Jesus. Up to 6, 16, he says many times, that Jesus taught the people, but he did not describe the content of the teaching (Lk 4, 15.31-32.44; 5, 184.108.40.206; 6, 6). Now, after having said that Jesus sees the crowd desirous to hear the Word of God, Luke presents the first great discourse which begins with the exclamation: “Blessed are you who are poor!” And “Alas for you, rich!” and then takes up all the rest of the chapter (Lk 6, 12-49). Some call this Discourse the “Discourse of the Plain” because, according to Luke, Jesus came down from the mountain and stopped in a place which was plain and there he pronounced his discourse. In Matthew’s Gospel, this same discourse is given on the mountain (Mt 5, 1) and is called “The Sermon on the Mountain”. In Matthew, in this discourse there are eight Beatitudes, which trace a program of life for the Christian communities of Jewish origin. In Luke, the sermon is shorter and more radical. It contains only four Beatitudes and four curses, directed to the Hellenistic communities, formed by rich and poor. This discourse of Jesus will be meditated on in the daily Gospel of the next days.
• Luke 6, 20: Blessed are you, poor! Looking at the disciples, Jesus declares: “Blessed are you who are poor, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours!” This declaration identifies the social category of the disciples. They are poor! And Jesus promises to them: “The Kingdom is yours!” It is not a promise made for the future. The verb is in the present. The Kingdom belongs to them already. They are blessed now. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes explicit the sense of this and says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit!” (Mt 5, 3). They are the poor who have the Spirit of Jesus; because there are some poor who have the mentality of the rich. The disciples of Jesus are poor and have the mentality of the poor. Like Jesus, they do not want to accumulate, but they assume their poverty and with him, they struggle for a more just life together, where there will be fraternity and sharing of goods, without any discrimination.
• Luke 6, 21-22: Blessed are you, who now hunger and weep. In the second and third Beatitude, Jesus says: “Blessed are who are hungry now, because you shall have your full! Blessed are you, who are weeping now, you shall laugh!” One part of the phrase is in the present and the other in the future. What we live and suffer now is not definitive; what is definitive is the Kingdom of God which we are constructing with the force of the Spirit of Jesus. To construct the Kingdom presupposes pain, suffering and persecution, but something is certain: the Kingdom will be attained, and you will have your fill and you will laugh!”
• Luke 6, 23: Blessed are you when people hate you…! The 4thBeatitude refers to the future: “Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out on account of the Son of Man!” Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, look, your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way your ancestors treated the prophets!” With these words of Jesus, Luke encourages the communities of his time, because they were persecuted. Suffering is not death rattle, but the pain of birth pangs. It is a source of hope! Persecution was a sign that the future that had been announced by Jesus was arriving, being reached. The communities were following the right path.
• Luke 6, 24-25: Alas for you who are rich! Alas for you who now have your fill and who laugh! After the four Beatitudes in favour of the poor and of the excluded, follow four threats or curses against the rich and those for whom everything goes well and are praised by everybody. The four threats have the same identical literary form as the four Beatitudes. The first one is expressed in the present. The second and the third one have a part in the present and another part in the future. And the fourth one refers completely to the future. These threats are found only in Luke’s Gospel and not in that of Matthew. Luke is more radical in denouncing injustices.
Before Jesus, on the plains there are no rich people. There are only sick and poor people, who have come from all parts (Lk 6, 17-19). But Jesus says: “Alas for you the rich!” And this because Luke, in transmitting these words of Jesus, is thinking more of the communities of his time. In those communities there are rich and poor people, and there is discrimination of the poor on the part of the rich, the same discrimination which marked the structure of the Roman Empire (cf. Tg 5, 1-6; Rv 3, 17-19). Jesus criticizes the rich very hard and directly: You rich have already received consolation! You are already filled, but you are still hungry! Now you are laughing, but you will be afflicted and will weep! This is a sign that for Jesus poverty is not something fatal, nor the fruit of prejudices, but it is the fruit of unjust enrichment on the part of others.
• Luke 6, 26: Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you, because this was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets! This fourth threat refers to the sons of those who in the past praised the false prophets; because some authority of the Jews used its prestige and authority to criticize Jesus.
• Do we look at life and at persons with the same look of Jesus? What do you think in your heart: is a poor and hungry person truly happy? The stories which we see on Television and the propaganda of the market, what ideal of happiness do they present?
• In saying: “Blessed are the poor”, did Jesus want to say that the poor have to continue to be poor?
Upright in all that he does,
Yahweh acts only in faithful love.
He is close to all who call upon him,
all who call on him from the heart. (Ps 145,17-18)
In the olden days, most people believed that there was a tomorrow after death. As a result, they lived a good life, knowing that there would be retribution in the next life. So many of our forefathers lived in view of the fullness of life promised to them. They lived with the great hope that the sufferings in this life cannot be compared to the life hereafter. They waited for the “inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for them. (1 Pt 1:4) This was the same attitude of the early Christians in the first reading. St Paul reminded them, “I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.” This attitude is true even of non-Christians. Although they might not believe in the resurrection of the dead, most would believe a certain continuity of life and the doctrine of karma, what you sow is what you reap.
But in the modern generation, the thought of tomorrow and of life after death seems to be something too far-fetched or too remote even to think of. Like the Corinthians, we are all so engrossed with this life, busy doing many things besides enjoying ourselves, that we hardly spare a thought for tomorrow. Furthermore, with a longer life span and finitude of life masked by cosmetics and aesthetic surgery, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are still young and can live for many more years. Indeed, if we honestly examine ourselves, most of us, even believers in Christ, live as if there is no tomorrow. The fact that our faith in life after death does not affect the decisions as to how we live today, shows that it is just an idea, not a conviction. At most, we might worry only when we are sick or facing the possibility of death.
What is the cause? It springs from a loss of the sense of the Sacred and faith in God. Through science and technology and in an age of information, many people no longer turn to God to solve their problems. They think so highly of themselves, that they can manage on their own and solve all the problems of the world. This has led to materialism and individualism. Being absorbed by the world, God becomes more and more distant from their lives. Left to themselves, without understanding that life is much deeper and richer when we live on the transcendental level, they sink to living merely a sensual life. The more they live this kind of life, the emptier they become. In truth, for those who live such a life, especially when they have become successful and have all the material things they need and want, they are often restlessness and lonely. They know that something is missing in their life, which they experience as a deep vacuum. Unfortunately, many do not realize that it is their spirit seeking for God. This is what the Lord warns us of today, “But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way the ancestors treated the false prophets.”
In the gospel, when Jesus presented the Blessed Life to His disciples, He was precisely speaking about what fullness of life entails. It means to live in a spirit of poverty, knowing that happiness in life is to live simply and be freed from the worldly concerns of life. When we live with detachment and are grateful for what we have, we will always be happy because we are not a prisoner of anyone. We are called to live in love for the truth. Even when we are rejected and hated because of our Christian belief, we should be at peace. Truth and love will prevail at the end; if not in this life, it will be so in the next life. It is this confidence of the final liberation that made many Christians give their life for their faith and devote themselves to the service of God and the Church as hermits, monks, religious and priests. Many more spend their whole life in service to the poor and needy.
St Paul in the first reading lived with such a vivid hope for the fullness of life in the future. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Phil 1:21-24) Again in the second letter of Peter, St Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (1 Pt 3:9)
St Paul saw the urgency of preparing ourselves for the next life. Within this context, he advised the Christians that in whatever they did, they had to focus their eyes on the Lord. Accordingly “those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it.” He was not saying that we cannot marry, or enjoy life here and now, but that we must bear in mind that because “the world as we know it is passing away.” We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are here forever. Hence, it is important that we live our lives in perspective.
Living for the future does not mean that we do not live in the present. Rather, the present is lived even more fully because of the future. Realizing what is ahead of us, we will not take the things of this life too seriously. They are means by which we are called to love and grow in grace. Realizing that the future is a life lived with God in love, then this life must already be a foretaste here and now. “Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation.” (1 Pt 3:14f)
What actually makes us happy today is not whether we have much food, a beautiful house, a great career or fame, but whether we are making a difference in the life of our fellowmen. Only when we live in such a way that is contributive to Church, society and country, can we be happy with ourselves and be at peace. Knowing that we can bring much joy to those who are suffering, food to those who are without, shelter to those who have none, relief and cure to those who are sick, work to those who are without jobs, reconciliation to those who are alienated from their loved ones, peace to those who are troubled in their conscience, forgiveness to those who condemn themselves, and all the good works we can think of, will make us more human and fulfilled. That is why, as we weep with them, identifying ourselves with them in their poverty and their sickness and suffering, we learn to feel with them. In reaching out to them, they will draw out the goodness that is latent in our hearts. By so doing, we will find a joy that the world cannot give. “How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.”
Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore.
Tags: 1 cor 7:25-31, a loss of the sense of the Sacred and faith in God, Beatitudes, Behold your reward will be great in heaven., Blessed are you when people hate you, Blessed are you who are now hungry, Blessed are you who are now weeping, Blessed are you who are poor, Blessed are you who are poor for the Kingdom of God is yours., But woe to you who are rich, carry the cross, life after death, live as if the world is coming to an end for us tomorrow, Lk 6:20-26, LK 6:23, LK 6:23AB, love of one’s enemies, love your neighbor, loving one’s neighbour, Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’, Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, our faith in life after death does not affect the decisions as to how we live today, parable of the house builders, pleasure, poor and hungry, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 145, Psalm 45, Rejoice and exult for your reward shall be great in heaven, Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!, Saint Peter Claver, September 7 2016, September 9 2015, Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Plain, service to others, sins of the flesh, stay in the present moment, the fullness of life promised to them, The Lord is compassionate toward all his works, the world as we know it is passing away