17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
The world in front of the text has two dimensions: the response of the reader who encounters the text, and the Church’s history of interpretations and use of the text.
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
There may not be a Gospel passage more challenging than this. It raises the question of our ultimate goal in life. We naturally and rightly desire success, comfort and wellbeing but Jesus states that these are secondary to self-giving to others. The rich are not condemned for their success and comfort but because they are indifferent to the poor and do not share their good fortune. Following Jesus requires a change in perspective and action from self-sufficiency to awareness of our dependence on God and to our co-responsibility for others, especially the poor and marginalised.
The passage is part of a sermon directed at the disciples and in the hearing of the multitude. Our reflection on the text is calls us to move from being simply part of a multitude to be more fully a disciple of Jesus, one who learns from and imitates him.
Church interpretation & usage
The Church traditionally has organised its moral instruction around the Ten Commandments and the Catechism of the Catholic Church continues this practice. The Beatitudes have become more significant in recent decades because of a greater dependence on Scripture in moral discourse, stress on the total Christian life not just its minimum requirements, and the stronger emphasis on the social mission of the Church.
The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give the fullest expression of Christian morality. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that they “are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching” (n.1716) and “reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts” (n.1719) for God calls us to his own beatitude, the Kingdom, the vision of God in eternal life (n.1726). “The Beatitudes confront us with decisive choices concerning earthly goods; they purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things” (n.1726).
In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete and Exsultate (‘Rejoice and Exult’) Pope Francis dedicates chapter three to the Beatitudes. He commences as follows:
Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.n.63
Over the years the Church has referred to Matthew’s Beatitudes more often than to those of Luke. More recently, Catholic Social Teaching and theological discourse has made greater reference to Luke in its advocacy for social justice. Latin American Liberation Theology used the Beatitudes and Woes and the Gospel of Luke in general to advocate for a ‘preferential option for the poor’, a term taken up in the teachings of Pope St John Paul II (Centsimus Annus, 57) and his successors. Pope Francis comments that “the Church has made an option for the poor”: which,
as Benedict XVI has taught − ‘is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty’. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us”. He goes on to state that we “need to let ourselves be evangelised by them” and “to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way”Evangelii Gaudium, n.198