In proclaiming the Beatitudes, the Divine Master opens a new religious perspective to humanity, in which adherence to God no longer comes about through the impact of great miracles, but through a true conversion of heart.
Gospel of the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of His disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. 20 And raising His eyes toward His disciples He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.22 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. 23 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. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (Lk 6:17, 20-26).
I – A History Marked by Miraculous Interventions
To better understand the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospel of this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we must situate the episode described by St. Luke in time, calling to mind the history of the Chosen People.
Favoured by God with abundant mystical phenomena and miracles, the Israelites had known great events over the centuries. It is enough to go back to the period of slavery in Egypt, for example, and consider the fascinating journey of Moses, who was saved from the waters thanks to a certain human shrewdness and much divine protection. In the fulfilment of the mission to liberate his compatriots from captivity and lead them to the land of Canaan, he was assisted in a special way by Providence, working a series of wonders, including the portents performed in the discussions with Pharaoh, the ten plagues that ravaged the Egyptian nation, the crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground, the drowning of the pursuing army, and the leading of the children of Israel through the desert for forty years, sustained, all the while, with manna.
Passing over many other memorable events, let us recall the extraordinary deeds of Joshua, at whose voice the sun stood still in the firmament “and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Jos 10:13); the exploits of Elijah, who “shut up the heavens, and also three times brought down fire” (Sir 48:3); and the glories of Elisha, who in his life “did wonders, so in death his deeds were marvellous” (Sir 48:14).
Providence wanted the conversion of hearts
However, if we jump forward to “when the time had fully come” (Gal 4:4), we encounter a sui generis prophet, sent to make straight the ways of the Lord. His diet, consisting of locusts and wild honey, was certainly strange; he wore a garment of camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and preached on the banks of the Jordan. Thin, but full of vitality, gifted with a strong voice, he exhorted his listeners to penance and said he was unworthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of the One who would come after him.
Although John the Baptist did not display any of the ancient magnificence to which the Jews had grown accustomed, “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem” (Mk 1:5) in order to confess their sins and receive “a baptism of repentance” (Lk 3:3). It was a period of preparation, in which Providence wanted the sincere conversion of hearts, without the need for spectacular miracles.
Our Lord’s manner of revealing Himself to Public Opinion was quite different. He sat down at banquets and served Himself at will; moreover, He wore a tunic of excellent quality, made by the best dressmaker in history, His Most Holy Mother. When He made any gesture with His arms, this garment must have fallen in folds of matchless elegance that accentuated the superior quality of the fabric, produced, thread for thread, by the sublime hands of Mary.
As for His miracles, Jesus performed them with such munificence that there was no one who, touching His mantle with faith, or being caressed by His shadow, was not benefited. He healed the sick, cast out demons and even forgave sins, filling those who sought Him with consolation and joy. The fabulous draught of fish on Lake Gennesaret (cf. Lk 5:1-11), the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof (cf. Lk 5:17-25) and the cure of the man with the withered hand (cf. Lk 6:6-10) were just some of the impressive events which, already at the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, left the crowds enraptured and amazed (cf. Lk 5:26) and filled the Pharisees with fury (cf. Lk 6:11).
It is in this context that the sermon of the Beatitudes, contemplated in today’s Liturgy, takes place. After witnessing so many portentous works, the people needed to take a step further: to know the principles on which our Lord would found His Kingdom on earth, and to assimilate a new religious perspective.
II – The Beatitudes and the Maledictions
In recording the Divine Master’s activities in the evangelization of Galilee at the beginning of His public life, St. Luke notes that He customarily “withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (5:16). Further on, he relates one of these occasions, when the Saviour spent the whole night praying on a mountaintop and, at dawn, He called His disciples together and chose the Twelve Apostles from among them (cf. Lk 6:12-16).
Although St. Matthew places the events in a different sequence, many authors consider chronologically correct that proposed here by St. Luke, according to which the sermon of the Beatitudes took place on the day after the election of the Apostolic College, when Jesus was coming down the mountain.
The multitude awaited Him along the way
17 Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of His disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. 20a And raising His eyes toward His disciples He said: …
Coming from different regions, these people had certainly heard that Jesus had gone up the mountain the previous evening. Desiring to “hear Him and to be healed of their diseases” (Lk 6:18), they decided to wait for Him, gathered in a strategic place through which they knew He would pass on His return.
No doubt when they saw Him approaching from a distance they acclaimed Him and ran toward Him, as verse 19, omitted from today’s Liturgy, suggests: “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch Him because power came forth from Him and healed them all” (Lk 6:19).
We can imagine the moment when, amid the general joy, Our Lord moved to a higher elevation and sat down (cf. Mt 5:1) facing the crowd, while the Apostles sat behind and around Him, forming a semi-circle.
In this poetic scene, one detail of surpassing beauty noted by the Evangelist stands out: the gaze which the Saviour turns towards His chosen ones as He begins to preach.
Heaven belongs to the detached
20b “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.”
We should not interpret this statement of Our Lord as referring to material poverty, as if Heaven were only open to those who on earth were subject to miserable economic conditions. If this were so, pennilessness would be enough to guarantee salvation, and the practice of virtue would have no value for eternity.
Jesus speaks of the poor in spirit, that is, those who are free of attachments and ambitions, aware of their state of dependency on the Lord, who created and redeemed them. In this way, whether they own a house, a car or a bicycle, or even when they work hard to accumulate savings, they consider everything as God’s property, using material goods with the disposition to willingly dispose of them if it be the will of Providence.
21a “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.”
It would be too narrow-minded to think that in this verse Jesus praises those who suffer bodily hunger, whether involuntarily, for lack of food or means to obtain it, or of their own accord, by imposing a penitential fast. However meritorious abstention from food may be with a view to mortification, much deeper is the reality to which the Redeemer points in declaring this Beatitude.
Our Lord is alluding to the hunger for doctrine, for virtue, for the eternal vision of God, experienced by those who, as they progress in the supernatural life, feel an ever greater need to know Him and to be united with Him. In a word, it is the hunger for justice, that is, for holiness, which the Evangelist St. Matthew describes (cf. Mt 5:6). Unlike the physical process of eating, by which the appetite is satisfied when we eat, the hunger of our spiritual organism for heavenly goods increases, the more we receive them.
Only in Heaven, when we see God face to face, will this appetite be satisfied. Yet already in this world, blessed are those who feed on the Eucharist, the Sacred Banquet that unites the soul to its Creator and imparts the energy to fight for Him.
Happy are those who weep for the offences against God
21b “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.”
Sensitive to human suffering, Jesus will have pity on the widow of Nain, and before performing the resurrection of her son, He will say to her: “Do not weep” (Lk 7:13). In a similar way, seeing the mourning of Mary Magdalene at the death of her brother Lazarus, He would be “deeply moved in spirit” (Jn 11:33).
However, in announcing the blessedness of those who mourn, Our Lord does not seek only to console men for the sufferings, of soul or body, brought about by the lackings of our nature. It is true that, if well accepted, such adversities will be transformed into joy in eternity, and even in this life impart peace of heart; nevertheless, the words of the Divine Master have a broader scope.
He is talking about the weeping, not always manifested outwardly in tears, of the righteous who, afflicted with humanity’s situation of offence against God, cry out day and night for His intervention in the world.
Desirous of encouraging these generous spirits, the Saviour promises them laughter as a reward. Indeed, those who are thus concerned for the divine glory enjoy unshakable interior joy, and will be especially glad when God manifests His justice on earth, bringing an end to the present state of disorder and sin.
Persecution, the reward of the good
22 “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. 23 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.”
Evidently, this Beatitude does not apply to just any person hated by people – as is the case, for example, with a bandit or murderer – but to those who become the object of such execration “on account of the Son of Man.”
History shows us how the hatred of the wicked bears down on the righteous with a burning desire to destroy them, because they are a representation of God Himself. Unable to bear the good, they devise every means to eliminate them, as happened to the prophets, who “suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Heb 11:36-37).
Our Lord wanted to warn His followers of the hatred that would rise up against the Church, the visible society to which they should bear courageous, strong and gallant witness. Those who uphold the name and glory of the Mystical Spouse of Christ should not be surprised when they are the object of scorn, insults or imprecations; on the contrary, this is the hour of joy, when the words of the Redeemer are fulfilled and His true disciples are revealed!
When these circumstances pass, the righteous lament: “What a pity it was so brief! I long for the time when I was cursed, persecuted and hated!” And they react thus not because of the reward they will receive in Heaven, but because of their desire to experience the same hatreds as the Redeemer, who offered no compromises to the wicked.
St. Matthew records eight Beatitudes; St. Luke, only four, but, showing himself very emphatic in this matter, he adds four impressive maledictions.
The vice most detrimental to eternal salvation
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
How should we understand this reproof of the Divine Master against the rich? After all, the Church herself presents many wealthy people as an example of sanctity, raising them to the glory of the altars. Over the course of history, how many kings and noblemen have reached a high degree of perfection in the midst of opulence, managing their goods with complete detachment!
The wealth condemned by Jesus in this verse is that of the heart, through which man removes God from the centre of his thoughts and places himself there, judging himself to be a colossus. Dominated by selfishness, he finds his “consolation” in whatever satisfies his self-love, however trivial and fleeting, and little by little, he loses his taste for the sublimities of Heaven.
Nothing is more harmful to salvation than this vice, as Our Lord will warn on another occasion: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24).
Eternal destiny of those who embrace sin
25 “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”
When man tries to fill with sin the longing for the infinite that only God can completely satisfy, he will always want more, to the point of becoming its slave (cf. Jn 8:34). It is the “abundance” demanded by disordered passions, which lead the soul to turn towards creatures, turning its back on the Creator.
Whoever dies in such a condition is not fit to enter Heaven. That is why Jesus is incisive in these two curses, making a clear allusion to hell, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:42).
In fact, the condemned suffer the most terrible hunger: the privation of God, which is never satisfied, and is called the pain of loss. They want to be with Him, but they feel eternally rejected, and for this reason they long to destroy Him or to annihilate themselves. Since they can accomplish neither, they are always in a state of extreme despair.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”
In this verse, the Divine Master warns against the risk of accommodating oneself to the ways of the world, of which one cannot be a good friend without being an enemy of God (cf. Jas 4:4). In this way He highlights an important truth: our life on earth is made up of struggle and contradiction, and if we are authentic disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we will, like Him, tread the way of the Cross.
Taken together, the Beatitudes and the maledictions put us in the perfect perspective to wisely contemplate reality and to face life’s difficulties, until the moment when we appear before the Lord to be judged: on one side will be the splendours of Heaven, the goodness and power of God; on the other, hell, suffering and our own misery.
III – Let us Live for Heaven!
In this Sunday’s First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah offers us a striking image of the misfortune of those who put their hope in passing things and not in eternal goods:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth” (17:5-6).
This is the great test of all the baptized: will they cling to what is merely human and earthly, forgetting their condition as children of God, or live for eternal realities, devoting to them the best of their energies?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord teaches that Providence consoles us and makes us blessed here on earth when, in the midst of battles and sorrows, we keep our eyes on Heaven, knowing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). But if, on the contrary, we seek our own satisfaction in the follies of the devil, the world and the flesh, we make ourselves worthy of the “woe” pronounced by Our Lord.
Here we need to examine our conscience and ask ourselves: am I blessed or cursed? What is certain is that if we place ourselves in Our Lady’s hands and place all our trust in Her, through Her we will receive graces to abandon any vice, however bad it may be. And if we frequently approach the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, the promise of Jesus will be fulfilled us: “he who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54).
Let us ask that they transform us, instilling in our hearts a desire for the things of Heaven. ◊