Today, we hear the “Blesseds” of the Beatitudes and in this Gospel of Luke we also hear the “Woes.” The Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah is utterly descriptive about people who trust in human beings rather than the Lord. It has contrasting poetry—not unlike the Blesseds and Woes of the Gospel reading. Jeremiah describes the former people as “a barren bush, enjoying no change of season, standing in lava waste, a salt and empty earth.” Compare that to the latter—people who put their trust in God: “Blessed are you…like a tree planted beside the waters, not fearing the heat, its leaves stay green, in draught it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” This is a very clear depiction from a desert people who liken God to the blessing of life-giving water!
When we put our trust and hope in the Lord, in God, we will not be spiritually thirsty and emotionally barren; instead, we will be replete in the Lord’s abiding and abundant mercy, contented and gratified in his love, no matter what happens in our lives. The psalm response reflects the basic criterion for all three readings—it is the image, the paradigm and the example for the message we are meant to understand: “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” (May we believe what we sing, and sing what we believe!)
“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. But if you look even further back to Jesus’ Aramaic the original word for “blessed” was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have a passive quality to it at all. It means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.” (Thanks, Rev Rohr!) So in following the Beatitudes we are to act upon our blessings in an active way: “get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, make peace and you shall be called children of God.”
This action of a blessing that we are called to be as believers reflects Jesus’ words and teachings. I can hear Jesus saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond any despair in this field of souls. “Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus may have said to his disciples. However, when you work outside the system for peace, justice and mercy you will not be admired inside the system. You will look dangerous, subversive, a troublemaker, unpatriotic. One thing you cannot call Jesus was a patriot. He was serving a far bigger realm, as should we.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul tells us that our faith is not in vain. Since Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be too—blessed are we who hope in the Lord! According to St. Luke’s Gospel, our reward will be great in heaven, so rejoice and be glad! Do so because blessed are you if you are poor, or hungry, or marginalized, or weeping and grieving—that would be all of us…
In a few short weeks, the season of Lent will be upon us (before we know it). Changes in our Liturgy and in our worship environment will take place that will reflect this new penitential season. We will strive for the desert experience of Lent—no green plants, serious and sparse (yet rich) symbolism—Lent should make us “thirsty” for God. As we head toward Lent, here is an idea: rather than give up something, maybe the challenge should be to do something positive for others; in action— to be a blessing for someone. Be a blessing, rather than a woe, for those around us. This is living the attitude of the Beatitudes we hear today; living in the hope of growing closer to God. “Blessed are they who hope in God.”