Luke 6:17, 20-26
Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude 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. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”
“Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.” (verse 17)
At the beginning of this Gospel, we have here, as it were, a parallel with Mount Sinai and with Moses: Jesus comes down with the twelve and then teaches a great multitude of his disciples, that is, he shows how much these twelve apostles belong to him in his work and teaching: With them Jesus stands and teaches the greater multitude of his disciples. This is also an image of what is to come: It points to how Jesus will be with his disciples when they proclaim him in the time of the Church. This is the assurance he thus gives to them and also to us: He will always be with His Church; and where it proclaims honestly, He will be the actual herald. Just as between Moses and the people stood the 70 elders to hear the message and then pass it on to the people, so Jesus now speaks to the disciples. One speaks sometimes of 70, another time of 72 disciples. Now, in this passage, it speaks of the “great multitude of his disciples.” He speaks to the disciples. And people come from all directions to hear him. But so many people could not hear him themselves. Therefore, the twelve apostles were his “loudspeakers”, so to speak. He teaches all these disciples together by sending the apostles to them to pass on his teaching to them.
Before Jesus teaches, however, he works exorcisms and he heals. That is, the word of salvation, the proclamation of the Good News from the Father, immediately follows the act of healing. This is certainly also a very important statement for the church of today and for the church of every time: It must again and again allow such healing deeds together with Christ, so that the people become lucid and feel: Here speaks another. They do not follow just any master, but one who has authority and who testifies this through the act of salvation that precedes the word of salvation.
“And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: «Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.»” (verse 20)
Jesus now speaks to those who have decided for him, to the disciples. A disciple of Jesus is the one who has decided for Christ. He is not a follower who is once interested in God or Jesus, but whose interest quickly wanes or disappears altogether. The disciple is a decided person. In this sense, therefore, when Jesus gives the command, “Go and baptize and make disciples,” he is saying two different things: the disciple is the one who has accepted baptism, that is, who has made the covenant with Christ. And this covenant consists in the fact that man gives himself completely to God, just as Christ gave himself to us even unto death. Teresa of Ávila calls this total surrender. Jesus repeatedly calls for this total surrender in the Gospel with the word “conversion”: away from oneself, toward God. Whoever is thus converted is a true disciple of Jesus.
To these disciples who have thus chosen Jesus, he says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” “Poverty” here is a very crucial term: the poor here are not simply people who have nothing. In tradition, poverty is synonymous with humility. Poverty is the knowledge of my poverty before God. Poverty in the biblical sense means: God, you are everything. You are the wealth of all. You are the fullness of life, the fullness of being. Everything that exists comes from you. Nothing comes from me. I am nothing from myself. Everything I have is from you. I have made nothing. I unfold together with you only what you have given me, what you have laid in me. But I myself am totally poor. This attitude is a basic requirement for our right relationship with God. If this basic condition is not there, Christ cannot reveal himself to us in all his fullness. I must first admit my poverty. This is humility. Humility is nothing other than the courage to face the truth that I am not God and that I have nothing of my own, but that I have been given everything. I have become, I have not made myself. How difficult it is for us to admit this! This is how we realize that pride is the worst evil in us. The proud one wants to be like God – this is the original sin that is still rooted in us and tugs at us. St. Francis says about pride: it is my mortal enemy. And St. Francis de Sales states, “Pride dies only a quarter of an hour after death.” So we must always reckon with this mortal enemy. But the opposite of pride is humility, that is, the ability to admit: I am quite poor. God is everything, I am nothing. And this is the basic attitude of worship, the basic attitude of the real children of God. So Jesus says here to the disciples: Blessed are you who are poor, because you have decided for me, i.e., you have recognized that I am the Lord and you have everything from me. Let us examine ourselves: Can Jesus say the same about me? For only then does the kingdom of heaven belong to me.
Jesus speaks to those who have chosen him and have thus become his disciples. And the kingdom that he promises to these poor is actually the good of all goods. But: I must first admit that everything is given. Only then can God give me anything at all, namely the highest, the Kingdom of God. But first of all the first thing must be true, namely that I am poor. If I am rich, if I want to be like God, then God cannot give me the kingdom of heaven, then I do it all myself. But what man does leads to hell rather than to heaven.
“Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” (verse 21)
The eschatological meal of which Jesus speaks here is the kingdom of God, in which we will all have a part, in the banquet of the Lamb, as it is said in the Mysterious Revelation; this meal is therefore, as it were, the satiation of the hungry. But it also brings about the redeemed laughter for those who weep, as the next Beatitude proclaims. Weeping means: you are coming out of the great tribulation, as the Apocalypse says.
But it is also about weeping over the fact that people do not accept the mercy of God's love, but simply reject it. This is truly “to weep.” For those who love Christ and know about His infinite mercy and love and about His offer will weep for the sake of the many who do not want to recognize the truth. They care about all kinds of things in the world, but not about the truth. Yes, they even reject this truth. They do not even want to hear it. Normally, one would think that when it comes to eternity, people would do everything they could to find out the truth. But often it is exactly the other way round: Just when it is about the temporal, which is transitory, and where I cannot know at all whether I will still live to see tomorrow - for this man risks everything! And about the eternal, the decisive he does not care at all. That is the complete reversal of the circumstances! It is frightening, if one hears some people speak in such a way - above all, if it concerns outstanding politicians, who seduce also still the people with their statements and do not correspond in the least to their oath to do everything for the well-being of the people. That, too, has something to do with not wanting to know.
For the disciples of Jesus, however, the kingdom of God, this banquet of eternal life, will satisfy the hungry, the poor who hunger for truth and justice. And it will make those who weep laugh again. Precisely the deprived poor of v. 20 are at the same time also hungry. They hunger for truth, for love, for perfect love, for God. The coming meal wants to satisfy the whole person and let him participate in this richness of God. This is what Jesus wants to tell us in this passage. Psalm 126:2 says: “When the LORD restored the captives of Zion, we thought we were dreaming. Then our mouths were filled with laughter; our tongues sang for joy.” – a wonderful word!
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude 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.” (verses 22-23)
Jesus now turns to the persecution of his disciples that will inevitably come. This is strongly reminiscent of the Mysterious Revelation. Quite clearly Jesus describes what “exclude from fellowship” means, but at the same time gives hope of the reward in heaven: “When they exclude 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.” This is the kingdom of God that the poor will inherit. This beatitude of the poor is, as it were, the heading over all the other beatitudes. All the other beatitudes are really just a declaration of this poverty: “Nothing from me, everything from you; God, you are everything, I am nothing.” It is about persecution for Christ's sake. The persecuted are to rejoice and not to grieve. There is often fear in us of the world and of persecution. We don't want the world to recognize us as Christians. We are afraid. That is where we should examine ourselves again and again: How much fear of man is in us when it comes to confessing Christ and His Church?
Jesus then refers to the prophets of the Old Testament. For their destiny is also the destiny of the disciples, and thus ultimately our destiny as well. In Confirmation, we are called and anointed to be priests, kings and prophets, and we must speak out. Prophet, however, is the one who tells the truth where people lie and do not want to know the truth. Therefore, the fate of the disciples will be the fate of the prophets of the Old Covenant. They were all muzzled, killed. In the end, we must also reckon with this. These are already quite harsh words. We heard last Sunday about the disciples following him. Here we now feel what this actually means: to be disciples of Jesus, to share the fate of the prophets and the fate of Jesus!
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.” (verses 24-25)
Here Jesus now starts with the "woe" cries: To be rich here means to really want to be like God, to lean only on oneself, not on God. The rich are those who think entirely of themselves and want to do everything themselves. When politicians say: I do everything myself, I don't need God, he has never helped me anyway – then that is this wealth in the biblical sense.
And those who are already full and no longer hunger for truth and justice do not want to know anything about God. What earthly life has to offer is enough for them. But they will hunger for an eternity.
Those who laugh now pretend that everything is already blissful and no longer care about what is important. They will “grieve and weep” at the Second Coming of the Lord, as described in the Mysterious Revelation.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” (verse 26)
Here again the recourse to the prophets of the Old Testament: The people of the Old Covenant praised the false prophets who told them beautiful words and only what they wanted to hear. And this is indeed something where we heralds today must also be very careful, so that we do not only proclaim because we want applause.
They gave applause to the false prophets and killed the true prophets. Isn't it the same today? When we tell people what they want to hear, we get applause. But then we are no longer proclaiming the message of Jesus. If we proclaim the word of Jesus as it is and tell the world the truth that it no longer wants to know, even to Christians, then we are muzzled, “killed” as it were. That is why today many people do not dare to speak and proclaim different truths, because they are afraid of the “murder” of those who want to silence them.
Jesus' promises of salvation to the persecuted disciples only become so clear on the background of these promises of doom, which he gives to the rich, the laughing, and so on. But the rich are here the absent ones. Present are rather the disciples. So Jesus speaks of those who are not present because they do not want to hear the message of salvation.
On the other hand, precisely these so-called poor and despised, whom Jesus praises blessed, are themselves subject to a danger that seems to be much worse than wealth: it is precisely this wanting to be honored. This is the pride that quickly condemns others and feels superior over the other disciples, the “poor”.
So the truth is with those who are persecuted, not with those who are publicly recognized. We must remember this also as Christians, especially as priests and bishops who have to preach full-time, that the apostles say: Let us be free again for the word and prayer. False prophets are praised because they say what people want to hear. They speak after their mouths. False prophets are about false teachings in pride. Pride and false teachings go together. One teaches what people want to hear, but not the truth – out of pride, because it is fashionable. One sets oneself apart from seemingly old-fashioned and conservative formulas. Once again, the truth is with the persecuted and not with those who want to be publicly recognized. Every Christian should always realize this and remember it well. ∎