The Gospel lesson for Sunday is the Beatitudes. These are some of the favorite verses for many people. When people say that, I silently think, “Well, then you haven’t really understood what Jesus was saying.” Perhaps the message is clearer in Luke 6 where, instead of just saying “Blessed are the …,” Jesus adds some pretty significant “woes”:
But woe unto you that are rich for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
The modern paraphrase The Message states it in even more stark terms:
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get. And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon preached on this text. I think the truth may be that most preachers would like to have a few more rich people in the congregation, so it is easier to just stick with Matthew’s version, which says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” You can interpret that in such a way that those of us who have more than we actually need are off the hook.
The trouble is, by neglecting the full range of what Jesus said, we have created a value system in this country where we look down on the poor as if they have done something wrong, as though they are less ethical or hard working. While we consciously know that the wealthy may be unethical and exploitive, too, we still admire them and treat them with greater respect and esteem. Jesus is saying that we have that completely backwards. Perhaps if we took Jesus seriously we would treat people differently.
by Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal