Blessings and Woes
Like St. Matthew’s Sermon on the mount, St. Luke’s Sermon on the plain also tells of Jesus teaching His disciples an unexpected litany of who is blessed (the Beatitudes); though unlike St. Matthew’s version, St. Luke includes a list of 4 woes (vaes). It is, therefore, understandable that more people gravitate towards St. Matthew’s rendition, after all, the beatitudes make us feel good about ourselves while the woes, not so much. Of course Jesus’ teachings often juxtaposed the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the expected with the unexpected, God’s kingdom with the world, and these lessons were as challenging for the disciples then as they are for us today.
I often think about what Jesus’ message was to the disciples and those people who gathered about when He spoke of those who were blessed as well as those who inspired His woes. Through the millenia , the church’s interpretation, and indeed general consensus on the meaning of being “blessed” is one of happiness and contentment; we use the term blessings to refer to those worldly situations and possessions which are thought to bring about the state of happiness. Yet, as Jesus spoke to the diverse crowds of rich and poor, healthy and sick, popular and pariah, content and wanting, it seems that happiness would not have been such a universal truth. In fact, to those who were poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced, it is doubtful they would describe their plight as being a state of happiness. And to the rich, satisfied, cheerful, loved and accepted, praised and exalted, surely they would not described their lives as woeful. But the scripture is clear, the former are described as “blessed “and woe is given to the latter.
In this light to be “blessed” must imply something deeper, more spiritual, more meaningful then worldly happiness. Clearly, the blessings that the Creator has laid upon those who are the world’s most afflicted do not involve the worldly ideals of riches and contentment but, instead, some state of being in an enviable relationship with God. I liken this state to the relationship of a gravely ill child with their parent. Though parents may equally and unconditionally love all their children, for those who bear illnesses or challenges beyond that of normal childhood, there is a special parent-child bond, a special celebration of existence which transcends the child’s corporal affliction. To be blessed by God then, is to be part of this unique Creator-creation bond, a bond of unconditional love that is envied by all others. When we are weighed down by our own plight, when the world seeks to subjugate us for our differences and humanity has abandoned us as unworthy of existence casting our frail bodies out into the dust of the streets, it is there that find ourselves in the arms of our Creator. In the depths of human need and frailty, it is our heavenly Father who loves and provides for us and the Holy Spirit who fills our breasts with life, hope, strength and perseverance. We are cleansed with holy tears shed by the Redeemer, our transgressions are washed away by the blood of God’s lamb and our inequities are erased by the most loving and gracious of sacrifices. It is there in the Earth’s dust from which we were fashioned that we open our eyes to see the one who created us, the smiling face of our heavenly parent who sees through the veil of our imperfect physical shell seeing only the magnificence that is His creation.
It is no wonder Jesus said woe to those who have found happiness in worldly riches and power. How He must have grieved to see those given so much by the world, always striving with each step to reach the apex of their ivory towers –steep rocky steps built on pride, greed, desire for power and concern for wordly acceptance. Alas, if only they could find the humility to reach down and lift up those who lay in the dust, or break bread with those who had none or share a kind word and moment of recognition with the ostracized, then they might understand what it truly means to be “blessed”.
How can we receive God’s love and be so “blessed”? Does our heavenly Father wish us to become like the poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced before we might receive His love? Of course not! Like any parent, our Father does not wish that we His children should suffer such a plight, but He does wish us to humble ourselves and reach out to those who are ignoble; to reach out to them, touch them, hold them, lift them up and so stand together as brothers and sisters.
There is a little story which I have stumbled upon that goes:
The old Rabbi said, “In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.”
“Why don’t they any more?” a young student asked.
“Because, nowadays no one stoops so low,” he replied.
Oh How true! Remember Moses went up the mountain, only to be near God when he knelt down in front of a burning bush and the disciples only began to see the true light of Jesus when they looked down as He washed their feet! So we too must stoop down low, lower than those we once called our servants, and be servants to them, washing their feet, caring for their needs above our own, healing their wounds and comforting their souls. For when we lower ourselves so that we might raise up others, it is then that we allow the blessings of God to flow through us and into others and in so doing we too become “blessed”.