In this week's gospel passage, Jesus walks down from the mountain heights to a wide, open place. There is a large and mixed crowd waiting there for Him and they are most eager to see and hear Him. They, also, are in great need of healing. They perceive that they are needy, although they do not understand what it means. Their lives are "thin lives", never enough, always struggling for subsistence in a world where others have more and they have less. They are not part of the society that eats, drinks, and lives well; they struggle each day to survive.
They are sitting on that grassy area and waiting for Jesus to speak or act. When He starts to speak, He begins with a special benediction. He simply says: "Blessed are you . .." He does not say this one time, but four times. They are stunned to hear that they are in fact blessed while they feel so beaten down and hurt.
Upon reflection, we learn that there is for some in life a different and special poverty and variety of painful feelings. These feelings lie so much deeper than the deprivations these listeners experience. Those who were there on that hillside that day learn from Jesus that there is a deeper fulfillment in life for them. Their need and emptiness actually puts God's special blessing on them.
Jesus also sets forth four woes or curses. He tells them quite clearly that those who are to be most pitied and least to be admired or followed are those who are already totally pleased with themselves and their endless shallow, grasping, plundering desires. They are the ones who are losing so much in life. They are engaged in endless and futile pursuits.
In the reading from Jeremiah we can learn of an image of the blessed one—a healthy tree with roots deep in nourishing life-giving water. The tree in fact flourishes, even though it must endure the unrelenting dry desert winds. Thus a person can flourish, says Jeremiah, if the person is deeply rooted in God. These deep roots are available to both the materially poor and the materially wealthy. We come to understand that the woeful one is not rooted properly and in fact is as lifeless as a barren bush in the very same desert where the tree flourishes.
Jesus is not extolling an irresponsible or unconnected way of life, nor is he condemning the financially well off. He is saying that there are in life far worse losses than the loss of money, bread, good cheer, and good company. Sadly he points out there is the loss of God or any interest in God. Clearly to Jesus this is a great poverty and sadness. Nothing will fill up that sharp absence of God.
The people who assembled on the plain to hear Jesus may not have known this when they first saw Jesus, but they certainly knew it after He had spoken. However, the people were responsible for listening and absorbing what Jesus was saying. They come to understand that the ultimate question had to do with their welcoming and good hearts, not how successful and prominent they were. They had to answer the question "Were they centered on and resting upon God? " The ultimate question for them as it is for us is: "In whom does your faith, hope, and love rest?"
Success or comforts in life are not bad, but if they are all that you have, in the end they leave you impoverished and less. As Saint Augustine said so long ago after the many, many struggles and losses in his life, our hearts are restless, until they rest in God.
Fr. BrianBACK TO LIST