A Reflection on Luke 6: 17, 20-26
By Fr. Ron
Today we hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Immediately, We notice some differences from Matthew’s version: First, the sermon is on a plain, not a mountain; second, there are four beatitudes instead of eight; and third, there are four corresponding “woes.”
These differences are small and incidental. But there is another difference that is more significant. Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor. (period)” Matthew spiritualizes the beatitude by making it “poor in spirit”
What does Jesus mean in saying the poor are blessed? The Hebrew word for poor that Jesus used is ani. In biblical times, the word could be used in four different ways.
First, the word could be used as we use it to refer to people who were without material wealth. Second, because these people were without material wealth, they were also without power or influence. They were without clout. So the word came to mean those who were helpless and without influence. Third, because these people were helpless, they were often oppressed and exploited. This led to a third understanding of the word. It could be used to refer to exploited people. Fourth, because these people were without wealth, without help, and without protection, many of them put all their trust in God. This gave rise to the fourth and final meaning of the word. It describes those persons who put their total trust in God.
This is what Jesus means in his sermon today when he says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” In other words, Jesus was referring to those people without wealth, without influence, and without protection, who put all their hope and trust in God.
They are the people who realize that they cannot depend on the things of this world for happiness. So they sought their happiness in God alone. God meant everything to them. Material things meant next to nothing to them. These people were happy to know God watched over them. To paraphrase his meaning: “Blessed are they who realize they can’t depend on material things for happiness and, as a result, put all their trust in God.”
What about us? Do we put all our trust in God? Do we believe that God is our only security? Do we live like we trust God alone?
To trust God in that way means to be detached from the things of this world. It means to be free of attachment to material possessions. Some people think that their “toys” will bring them happiness. If I can just get that new car, I will be happy. If I can buy a bigger house, I will be satisfied. If I could just keep my bank account and investments at a certain level, then I will feel secure. If my parents buy me an iPod, I will be happy. If I have the latest computer game, I will be happy. The list could go on and on…
A bit later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says:
Luke 12:24-31 Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! 25 Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your lifespan? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. 28 If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 29 As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. 30 All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.
The basic message Jesus is giving us is to trust God. He will care for us and look after us. That kind of trust will make us happier than anything else in the world. Let me finish with a simple story.
John Gibson Paton was born in Scotland in the 19th century. He was a Protestant missionary to the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific. That was the colonial name of what is now the Republic of Vanuatu. Paton was the first Christian missionary to go to these islands. He brought education and Christianity to the natives of the archipelago
One day Paton was working in his home trying to translate the gospel of John into the local native language. He was struggling to find a way to translate one of John's favorite expression from the Greek: pisteuo eis (to "believe in" or to "trust in" Jesus Christ). It’s a phrase which occurs first in John 1:12. "How can I translate it?" Paton wondered. The islanders were cannibals; nobody trusted anybody else. There was no word for "trust" in their language.
His native handyman came in. "What am I doing?" Paton asked him. "Sitting at your desk," the man replied. Paton then raised both feet off the floor and sat back on his chair. "What am I doing now?" In reply, Paton's handyman used a verb in his own language which means "to lean your whole weight upon." That's the phrase Paton used throughout John's Gospel to translate to "believe in." To trust in God is to lean your whole weight upon God.
St. Augustine expressed the trust we should have in God in these words: “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.”