I have gotten the impression that not an insignificant number of people are a little tired of winter. The weather has been grim: lots of clouds, snow, rain, bitter cold, freak warm-ups, and so on. So let me remind you of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Blessed are you who are weeping, for you will laugh.” The cold and snow will come to an end, and then we will rejoice!
Jesus gives us a message of hope here: no matter how bad things may be, they will come to an end. No matter how long the winter is, spring always follows. Our Gospel reading is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, the longer version of which is found in Matthew’s Gospel. Like the Beatitudes in Matthew, Jesus begins each sentence with the word “blessed” or “happy” – the meaning of the word beatitude. He gives a list of those who are blessed: the poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, and especially those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ. The Beatitudes point towards the future: if you are hungry now, you will one day be satisfied; if you weep now, one day you will rejoice. And if you are persecuted for the sake of Christ in this life, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” Rejoice because you are persecuted! Why? Because persecution today means that one day your reward in heaven will be great.
It’s so easy to go along with the ways of the world, to live just like everyone else around us. But Jesus calls us to a higher standard, and for that, we very well may experience some form of persecution. That’s because the Church makes bold claims about the Truth, one of those claims being that there is even such a thing as the Truth. And the Truth is always going to be a challenge to the status quo. By saying that some thing is true, it logically follows that something else is not true. For example, if I say: the earth is round, the implication is that the world is not flat. The world can’t be both a sphere and flat like a piece of paper. I think most people – though apparently not all – have no problem accepting this fact, so no problem there. But then what if I say, there is a God, or, God exists. Some people might start to object. This is one of the claims of our faith. It is not possible or logical to say, God exists and God does not exist. It’s got to be one or the other. Although I think a majority would still agree with the statement that God exists. Still not too controversial.
But the Church goes further and says, “God became a human being, who suffered and died for our salvation.” More people now would start to object. “God could not possibly become a human being!” They might respond. They might feel that their beliefs are being threatened. And the Church goes further: God has revealed himself to us in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, who established a Church to be the teacher and the guardian of the Truth. And, following God means obeying his commands, living in a certain way, doing good to others, avoiding certain behaviors, asking forgiveness if we have practiced those behaviors, and so on. More and more people start to object and feel threatened. And then the Church is so bold as to claim: the Truth that God has revealed to the world through Christ and His Church applies to all people, not just some. That’s where persecution can really take off. “Who are you to say what I am supposed to do, believe, etc.?”
But Jesus doesn’t tell us to be miserable if we are persecuted, and insulted, and excluded because of our faith in Him, but rather to rejoice! Why? Because this is a sign – a sure sign – of our beatitude, that we are blessed by God, and that we will have a reward in heaven. Note that Jesus doesn’t say, sneer and gloat at your persecutors because you know that you’re going to heaven and they’re not, no, here he tells us simply to rejoice. Elsewhere in the Gospels he tells us to forgive them as God has forgiven us, and bless them – desire their good; desire their conversion so that they too might repent of their sins and one day go to heaven too. The Church makes some bold claims indeed.
But there is another part to our Gospel. In addition to saying who is blessed, Jesus also repeats the phrase, “Woe to you…” And then he lists the opposite of the beatitudes he has just given. Woe to you who are rich, to you who are filled now, to those who laugh now, when all speak well of you. First let me say that Jesus is not saying here: if you are rich, or if your stomach is full, or if you sometimes laugh, or if sometimes people speak well of you or give you compliments, you’re in trouble. But isn’t that the opposite of what Jesus just said though? Let’s look to our first two readings to make more sense of this.
In our first reading from Jeremiah, the prophet says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” In other words, only the Lord is worthy of our complete trust. Only God will satisfy and fulfill us completely. But we often have the tendency to put our trust in created things. We might put all our hope and trust in money, or politics, or even in a person like the president, or a spouse, or a doctor, or a pope, a bishop, or priest. This person is going to make everything right. This person is going to give me safety. This person is going to make me happy. But it never happens, at least not completely; no one person and no one thing can do that. If we’re talking about people, they’re fallible; they make mistakes and they have their limitations just like everyone else. Don’t put all your trust in them or you will be disappointed.
Only God is worthy of all our hope and all our trust. Ultimately, only He will not disappoint us. He may not give us everything we want when we want it, for his own mysterious reasons, and because he has something even better in mind for us. But we can and ought to put all our trust in Him.
And returning briefly to our Gospel, when Jesus says, Woe to you who are rich, etc., the implication is that those who are blessed with gifts including wealth have an obligation to share with those who have not been so blessed. Nor should we put our own personal satisfaction above everything else, always seeking to satisfy ourselves with food and drink and entertainment and comforts. And nor should we avoid following Christ and doing what is right because we’re afraid of what people might think or say about us, or even what they might do to us. Don’t worry what people might think or say or do; your life is not meant to be spent seeking their good opinion but rather seeking to please the Lord.
And the reason that we can do any of this is because we have hope, because Jesus gives us hope. And our hope comes from the fact that Jesus Christ died for us and then rose from the dead. That is the source of all our hope. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then as St. Paul says, “Your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” Jesus’ Resurrection is the reason for our hope and the reason why, even in the midst of great darkness, we can rejoice.