There’s nothing obscure about today’s Gospel. Jesus says that those who are poor, hungry, grieving and persecuted are to be congratulated because they’re on the way to great happiness.
Those who are wealthy, satisfied, enjoying what the world has to offer, and admired by everyone are to be lamented because they’re going to end up miserable. Such a simple message. What could need explanation?
OK, perhaps it’s worth noting that Jesus is talking about our situation in the age to come, on the other side of death and God’s final evaluation of our lives.
And it may be helpful to clarify that Jesus doesn’t mean that God wants anyone to be hungry or that being hungry by itself guarantees future fulfillment. Eternal happiness is assured for the hungry person who nevertheless trusts in God. Compare Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s Gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).
If we want to know more than that, Jesus has provided us with his own commentary on these words: his story about a starving man named Lazarus and a rich man who didn’t help him (Lk 16:19-31).
Well, if no further exposition is needed, it may be better for me to stop here. Anything more I might say would just be a delaying action, putting off the moment when each of us is left alone with this reading.
In any case, who am I to offer these words of Jesus to another person? Could I congratulate a hungry person?
I read of a Jesuit priest who works in a Central American city with children who scrounge for food in a dump. When asked if he preached to them, he said it is difficult to hold the attention of a boy when he’s fighting with a crow over a chicken bone.
And who is in a position to offer felicitations to a woman who has just lost her husband?
Only Jesus himself can utter these words of blessing (and woe) because he alone has come from God and knows what he is talking about. He alone, by his cross, has paid the price of these assurances.
So, whether we are richer or poorer, happy or in mourning, let us listen to what Jesus says and consider what it means for our relationship with God -- and with one another.