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  • Writer's pictureRev. Fr. Anuraj R.L.

Is every poor, blessed?


Last Sunday, we saw Jesus symbolically teaching about the kingdom of God, and today we, see him teaching the characteristics of those who are willing to enter into that kingdom.


"Blessed are you who are now hungry/Woe to you who are now filled”. “Blessed are you who are now weeping/Woe to you who laugh now”. “Blessed are you when they hate you, and when they exclude and insult you/Woe to you when all speak well of you”.


These words of Jesus are an absolute contradiction to the Jews. "… if you obey all his commandments which I command you … the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your cattle, and the fruit of your ground, within the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.” (Cfr. Dt 28:1-11)


If you obey, you’re going to have lots of children, plentiful crops, abundant cattle, lots of money, good weather, peace in the land. Your enemies will be driven out, and you will have peace and prosperity. So in the Old, obedience brings earthly blessings. It brings natural blessings. By contrast, disobedience brings curses. If Israel disobeys God, they’re going to bring down upon themselves through their sin: infertility, famine, pestilence, poverty, war, and then eventually, the worst of all, the curses is exile. They will end up being cast out of the land of Israel, the promised land, which is, of course, if you know the Old Testament, precisely what ends up happening.


With that background in mind, look again at what Jesus tells to his disciples: "Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry…Blessed are you who weep” and "blessed are you when men persecute you and exclude you and revile you. Rejoice on that day, for your reward is great in heaven.”


So, what we see in the teaching of Jesus is that blessings are curses, and curses are blessings. The way anyone will build up treasure in heaven is precisely through poverty, hunger and mourning. And it’s ultimately through persecution for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the son of man. By contrast, earthly blessings in the new covenant are spiritually dangerous.


Now one may ask, is every poor, then, blessed? Absolutely no. What Jesus tells us is that riches have the power to drag our hearts down from heaven and focus us on earthly goods. What’s the problem with getting a good meal? It can make us self-satisfied with worldly goods and feel all-sufficient like we don’t need God. People who are starving to death know they need God. People who are hungry know how weak they are and how dependent they are on God, but the rich and the full can get very complacent very quickly. Look at the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He deliberately chose to be poor in order to depend completely on God. Even today, many professional players, doctors, engineers choose this path of poverty. I was blessed to be a classmate of two of such great personalities. One was a renowned Slovakian violinist, Fr. Andrej Matis, and another one was a professional engineer Fr. Rajeesh Rajan, in Kerala. Both of them left their professional lives and became priests.


The same thing is true about those who are laughing now. Laughing is not bad in itself. Jesus isn’t condemning all laughter. He is talking about people whose laughter is the kind of laughter that is based and rooted in earthly joy, that distracts them from the injustice in the world and distracts them ultimately from the goodness of the kingdom of God. In the Prophets, we read of people who laughed in response to the disaster (cfr Hos 4:3; 10:5; Am 8:8; Is 24:4; Jer 4:8). That laughter demonstrated their entertainment at other people’s misfortune. Later in Luke’s Gospel, we will read of a rich fool who “makes merry” (that is, laughs) in the pursuit of his own temporary selfish interests while ignoring the eternal priorities of the Kingdom of God (cfr Lk 12:13–21). Some people, including soldiers, mocked Jesus while a great multitude of the people and of women bewailed and lamented him. So, when our values are disordered, we find humorous what causes sadness to God. Jesus proclaims Blessed those disciples who share the values of God and weep over the causes of divine sadness while rejoicing in the causes of divine gladness.


Finally, "blessed are you when they hate you, and when they exclude and insult you/Woe to you when all speak well of you”. We know Many early Christians did experience these forms of rejection as they were expelled from synagogue communities, families, and other groups (both social and professional) as a result of their decision to be disciples of Jesus.


Rather than seeing moments of rejection as a cause of humiliation and defeat, disciples are charged to see such experiences as a cause of honour, victory and a reason for rejoicing. Jesus also experienced such rejection. So, following the Lord means that we must be willing to embrace the same difficulties that He faced.


Sometimes the proof of our true discipleship is only when others begin to react to it. Their reaction means that our faith is not just a private, personal, interior experience but something that is actually being witnessed publicly and affecting the world around us. It is that public witness that can evoke both positive and negative response. We see such a negative response to authentic discipleship in the crowds who put Stephen to death (cfr Acts 7:52) when he carries on the prophetic ministry of Jesus in the early Church. False prophets, on the other hand, told the people what they wanted to hear and were praised for their faithless testimony. Oftentimes their false message led the people to dismiss their need for repentance and so brought about disaster as a result.


A Christian disciple does not primarily seek to have a good reputation and win the praise of others but to faithfully and courageously speak God’s word. To quote Saint Paul in his instruction to Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” ( cfr 2 Tim 4:2).


All these beatitudes are perfectly manifested in the crucifix placed at the centre of every church. It’s through Jesus, a man who looks like he’s cursed, who is poor, who has nothing, who is mourning, who’s been stripped of everything, who’s been persecuted, the ultimate blessing of blessings, the kingdom of heaven came to the world; he is the most blessed man of all.


So what beatitudes ask us is the complete detachment from earthly goods and the complete trust trust in God. That is what the first reading and the responsorial pslams teach us today. Trust in God.


So let us trust in Him and His words so that our lives may be equal to the tree planted by the water. Even in the year of drought, our lives may remain green and never cease to bear fruits.


May God bless you!


 

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