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Thursday, 10 February 2022 14:22

Blessings & Woes

Jesus came down with the Twelve and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.

Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said:
‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.
Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’ [Luke 6:17, 20-26]


Over the next three Sundays we will listen to almost the whole of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. Luke has used Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount but changed and shortened it significantly. It is important to realise that both Sermons are more than only the Beatitudes which begin them.

In Luke, Jesus’ words are addressed to the disciples, not to the gathered crowd, so we might think of the sermon as a teaching about discipleship.

The whole of the Sermon is quite confronting and challenging, especially those verses which form today’s Gospel reading. The Sermon begins with four blessings and four woes.

At first glance it is very odd to call people who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated blessed, fortunate or happy. But we have to hear the words of Jesus in the context of the religious teaching and general thinking which belonged to his time. Then, it was generally thought that those who suffered these things were experiencing the effects of either their own personal sinfulness or that of an ancestor. Similarly, those with wealth, plenty of food and high status were considered blessed and rewarded by God.

In the beatitudes Jesus reverses this way of thinking and effectively says that the opposite is true: God is, in fact, on the side of the poor and suffering. They experience suffering through no fault of their own (e.g., sin), it is simply the situation in which they find themselves. As the woes (‘Alas for you…’) make clear, the rich have a great deal to lose. The poor and suffering are fortunate in Jesus’ view because they have a need which the overflowing generosity of God can fill. They are in situations which attract God’s impulse to save. The Kingdom of God is already among them.

All things being equal, being wealthy, well-fed, happy and enjoying a good reputation are perfectly desirable. But in Jesus’ view all things are not equal. Often the poor are poor precisely because the rich are rich. The powerless suffer at the hands of those who have power and influence. ‘The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’ is a saying that endures even to this day.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke has Jesus insist repeatedly on the need for his followers to embrace poverty and to be under no illusions about the danger of wealth. Those who remain possessed by their possessions and the privileges they bring are unable to receive the gift of salvation, but even they can join the blessed through their care of the poor.

Read our Celebrating At Home prayers and readings for today.

pdf Celebrating At Home 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [PDF] (632 KB)                          
default Celebrating At Home 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [ePub] (2.82 MB)

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