Let’s begin with Luke’s chronology leading up to the sermon on the mount, the focus of our reflection today. Jesus had left his group of close disciples and retired to an isolated area atop a high hill where he spent the night in prayer. In the morning he returned only to find that his group of disciples had been joined by many more. In addition, inquisitive Jews from Judaea and Jerusalem joined them along with Gentiles from the coastal areas of Tyre and Sidon, today’s Lebanon. Many came to him seeking healing. Some believed that if they could only touch him, they would be cured by the power that came out of him. But before he addressed the crowd, he chose twelve men out of this large group. He called them apostles.
It might be helpful to clarify the difference between a disciple and an apostle. A disciple is a student who has been invited by a rabbi to join his group of students. An apostle, apostolos in Greek, is an envoy or ambassador, one who is sent on a mission to a foreign country. Jesus was beginning to assign roles among this new community of followers.
“Raising his eyes toward his disciples,” Jesus began his most important teaching. The beatitudes, and the woes that follow, laid out the fundamental principles of the
new society that Jesus envisioned. He called it the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. What he envisioned was a total reversal of the world as we know it.
For your reflection, I’m going to match each beatitude with its woeful counterpart. That will give us the black and white of his teaching. I’ll follow that with a related teaching from the Gospel, and a question or two that might assist your reflection. Here is a suggested guide for your reflection.
The first teaching:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)
The first reflection. Do you think you’re poor? Do you think you’re rich? How does your gut react to this teaching?
The second teaching:
“Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.” “But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.”
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22-23)
The second reflection: Have you ever been in a situation when you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from? What was it like when things changed? If you haven’t been in that position think about what it might be like for the millions who face this situation every day. What are the feelings that arise from this beatitude?
The third teaching:
“Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”
Teaching three. “Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of a Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:36-38)
The third reflection. Are you weeping? What are you weeping about? Are you laughing? What’s the source of your joy? How do you share in the sorrows and joys of others?
The fourth teaching:
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you 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.” “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in the same way.”
“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)
The fourth reflection. Have you ever suffered because you’re a disciple of Jesus? Has it ever been painful for you to give testimony to the Truth?
The beatitudes and their corresponding woes are Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. He taught that it was already here in germinal form, slowly manifesting itself on earth through sacrificial love. He modeled that love in his life, and his death on the cross.
Jesus didn’t give us an easy path to follow. He was serious when he taught us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke:9 23)
The cross we wear around our neck isn’t just a pretty talisman. It’s a reminder to the one who wears it, and the people who look at it, that the kingdom of God is near. It challenges us to manifest the kingdom by loving as Jesus loved – sacrificially.