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February, 17 2019

6th Sunday In Ordinary Time (C)

Rev. Richard Eslinger

 There is something odd about this version of the Beatitudes as presented by St. Luke.  Of course we have, most of us, learned of the differences between those of St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount and St. Luke in this Sermon on the Plain.  Luke has blessings and woes, while Matthew leaves Jesus’ teaching with the blessings.  Matthew’s list is longer, on one hand, while Luke’s seems more direct.  The poor are blessed in Luke’s Gospel while for St. Matthew, it is the “poor in Spirit.”  In Matthew’s version, the subjects are spoken about—“Blessed are those who…,” while in Luke, Jesus is much more direct.  “Blessed are you…,” Jesus announces.  And this direct speech of Jesus raises an interesting question:  Just who is it that Jesus is speaking to?  Now Luke has told us that the twelve have come down from the mountain with Jesus and when Jesus comes to some level ground, “a large number of people” gather there, from all over the region.  But a third group of people is also present—there along with the twelve and the large crowd are “a great crowd of his disciples.”  These are the women and men who follow Jesus throughout his Galilean ministry and who even follow him to Jerusalem.  And what is more, when Jesus is ready to make these startling pronouncements, he turns and “raises up his eyes toward them”!  It is the disciples who are following Jesus who are the special audience of these teachings, an insight made more astounding when Jesus includes in their midst the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted.  And all along, we may have been thinking that Jesus was addressing the crowd in general—as he does in Matthew.  But here, those being addressed are for St. Luke, the church.  In other words, the audience is us!  So how shall we hear these Beatitudes if Jesus is talking directly to us and speaking about our life together as his disciples?  Listen as “disciples” to what Jesus has to say to us.

      Notice first of all that our Lord announces the blessed among us now.  It is a present tense condition, one known as the “kingdom of God.”  As Jesus’ disciples, the kingdom is ours, and it is know in the present,…in the Breaking of the Bread, in the sacrament of marriage, in all of the sacraments, we know Christ and his kingdom now.  Of course, each of these present tense sacraments will be fulfilled in God’s own fullness of time, when we gather at the heavenly banquet and join in the marriage feast of the Lamb.  In that Day, there will be now more poverty, or hunger, or weeping.  All manner of things will be good in that great Day.  But it is amazing to us that Jesus declares these kingdom realities for his disciples now.  The poor are blessed, now; the hungry are blessed, now; those who weep, now; and even those who are being persecuted on account of their faith, happiest is promised right in the midst of insults and exclusion.  Remember the painting, “The Peaceable Kingdom”?  The one with all the animals, predators and prey, all looking out at you, all gathered in the peace of Isaiah’s vision,…with the little child in the midst of that scene?  Well, here is Jesus announcing that such blessings as these and more are given to us here and now as well as then and there.  Signs that will be fulfilled in God’s good time.

     So Jesus announces to this great crowd of disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor.”  He turns to us and says, “How happy you who are poor.”  But how shall we make sense of these words spoken to us?  Mostly, we hear them as addressed to the poor among the crowds of people “out there;” not to those of us in the assembly “in here.”  But St. Luke has provided quite a “great crowd” of poor ones who are richly blessed within the community of the disciples.  First and foremost among the poor who are blessed, St. Luke has proclaimed, the Lord’s handmaid, Mary.  She is one of the poor ones of Israel.  She is “of lowly estate.”  And yet, the first Beatitude in the Gospel is spoken by Elizabeth over Mary.  When Jesus announces, blessed are you who are poor,” we think first of Mary, lowly and faithful, model disciple for us all.  But there are other blessed poor among us as well.  St. Luke celebrated in his Acts of the Apostles that “all who believed” divided their possessions and distributed them “as any had need.”  Those New Testament Christians certainly heard and believed Jesus’ words concerning the poor,…and they acted on them.  Among the other poor with whom we have communion are many of the saints.  So many of those who surround us as a great cloud of witnesses were poor that wealthy and well-off saints seem almost the exception.  It is these blessed poor, the saints, who urge us on in the race, who are examples of discipleship, and who pray for us and our community.  The saints are among the blessed poor who bless us with their example and their prayer.

      But the force of this first beatitude of our Lord is so clear and direct that most any parish will seek out ways to extend hospitality to the blessed poor.  I mean, if Jesus is directing this word primarily to us disciples, then we will want to be a community of faith that is blessed by the presence of the poor.  For example, a number of parishes are members of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a ministry to the poor where a group of the homeless spend a week of evenings and overnights at a church.  Each evening, as the “guests” arrive from a day of classes and counseling, typically one group in the parish provides for a dinner that is more a banquet.  Parishioners gathered with their guests, and as the Apostle Luke described it, they all “ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”  In one parish, their week to extend this hospitality came up during Lent.  Following the meal on Wednesday, the pastor invited any guests who would like to join in worship to attend the Lenten evening prayer liturgy about to begin.  One gentleman did attend and volunteered to read the twenty-third psalm.  It was a deeply moving moment for the parishioners.  Here was a homeless soul speaking of God’s provision, God who “prepares a table be fore me…”  This poor one not only was blessed, but became for the worshippers a rich blessing.  This hungry one had been satisfied with a meal of love and blessed the assembly, feeding them with the Word.  But that is the mystery of the kingdom of God.  Blessed Mary sang of it.  The hungry have been filled with good things.  And the lowly are exalted.  But the mystery of the kingdom deepens further.  The hungry now satisfied and the poor who are exalted become a blessing for others of us who are disciples. 

     Our Lord also announces that those who weep are blessed.  He lifts up his head to the disciples and says that those who weep tears of grieving and pain will laugh.  Once again, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the model for such weeping and such laughter.  We cannot fully take in the grief of the Virgin as we stand before the Pieta and gaze at her sorrow.  She holds her crucified Son with such tenderness and love.  But Jesus did say that those who weep are blessed, and Mary’s great love and compassion are the source of her great grieving.  Yet those who weep will laugh, Jesus also continued.  And St. Luke takes particular care to point out that among the disciples who had witnessed the resurrection of the Lord and who gathered for prayer and the breaking of bread was “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”  “Blessed are you who are now weeping,” Jesus speaks to the disciples, “for you will laugh.”  God’s favor rests on you, and the community of disciples will pray for you and care for you, and even cry with you.  But as laughter came for Blessed Mary, it will also come for all who weep along the way.  Because the way will lead for Christ’s disciples to the fullness of the kingdom where God will wipe every tear from the eyes of those who weep and “death will be no more.”  Those who weep will laugh, for “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  Those who weep will laugh.  And all of Christ’s disciples will laugh and rejoice together. 

     Finally, Jesus adds another “blessed” group of disciples—those who have suffered the hate and exclusion of the world for their faith.  If such insults and exclusion are on account of the Son of Man, we are encouraged to “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day.”  And here is another mystery of the kingdom of God.  We who have been baptized in Christ and live as members of the Body of Christ are both “called out” of the world to live faithfully and in holiness and have been “cast out” by a world still living three days before Easter.  This beatitude is more an honest description of life together as disciples of Christ.  It is so much a forecast of discipleship that if the opposite is occurring, if all are speaking well of us, then we may want to proceed with much caution and deep reflection.  Our Eucharistic feast invites us to “rejoice and leap for joy.”  The presence of Christ always invites such a response, even as John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the Visitation.  And soon, the presence of Christ in bread and wine invites the same rejoicing for us.  Come to the banquet, you who hunger, eat until you are satisfied.  Come to the banquet, poor ones, too, for you are our honored guests.  Come to the banquet, even with tears in your eyes.  You will laugh in the kingdom of God.  And all who have been excluded or insulted or demeaned or laughed about for your faith, come to the banquet.  Rejoice and leap for joy.  Our Lord comes.

 

©Rev. Richard Eslinger

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