Luke 6:17, 20-26
Know Where You're Going
by Rev. Richard Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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:
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.
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 be hungry.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."
Everyone loves a good Yogi Berra-ism. Consider: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else." That seems to jibe well with our Gospel thie Sunday, which invites us to ask: What do we seek in life, and will that get us where we want to go?
Our adventure into Luke (Lk 6:17, 20-26) brings us to the famed Sermon on the Plain, sometimes referred to as "the other set of Beatitudes." Many are more familiar with the Beatitudes fund in Matthew 5, and a surface-level comparison gives several similarities. For instance, there's the "blessed are the ..." formula, wherein "blessed" roughly means "happy." In each, Jesus points to the unexpected happiness of many unlikely candidates (the poor, hungry, weeping, hated) in light of the promise of grace and eternal life in Christ.
Yet, perhaps the most obvious feature is one of contrast between the two accounts. Namely, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus pivots halfway through his list from praise to condemnation, blessing to woe. The change of tone is electrifying and would have been just as stark for his listeners. Imagine almighty God saying "Woe to you ...." and then including a group that seemed to apply directly to you.
The warnings invert the promises of the first four "blessed" beatitudes, not only putting an exclamation point on them, but also throwing us out of our comfort zone. "Blesses are you when people insult you for Jesus" certainly is encouraging to a bunch of people when they catch flack for living the gospel. Yet, each inversion is more intense and specific: "We o us when all speak well of us!" Or: "Woe to those now filled, they will be hungry!" Whereas before we fund ourselves very comfortable (usually we're not worried when others receive blessings), now we find ourselves in the crosshairs, nervous and wondering: "Wait, am I going to burn for eternity because I have food now?" or "is it so bad if people like me and speak well of me?"
We take a deep breath and remind ourselves that Jesus is not anti-food or anti-positive feedback. Yet, here is a larger question: What is it that we live for? What's our target in lie? Our answer might not be so easy. Often we fib to ourselves and to others about this quite readily. Few have the heart to admit something like "I really just want to be rich or popular."
Jesus seeks to shake us out of those conceits and redirect us to real motives and goals: God, virtue and grace. It's a fact: if all we seek is our next good meal, we'll be disappointed as each day greets us the same hungry again. If our aim is to live so that we're popular and no one ever has a harsh word against us, we've likely stood for nothing and possibly even becoming a scoundrel in the process. Real excellence and goodness always take sacrifice. Standing for the truth in a fallen world always brings criticism. It's worth being unpopular for the right reasons. However, if our destination is heaven and our desire is God and truth first, we won't mind if that's the case.
The point is: if we live for truth, goodness and beauty, if we have the courage to hunger for the things of God first and aim for virtue and grace, we'll live life in the right balance: hungry for heaven, full of the riches of God's grace, laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep. We may not be "cool," but we'll be excellent, by God. Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all else will be added. After all, unless we know where we're going (heaven) and how (seeking virtue by grace), we're likely to end up someplace else.