Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Lk 6:17, 20-26
Jesus 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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 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. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
Matthew’s first Beatitude says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3), but Luke’s says bluntly, “Blessed are you who are poor.” If there was any danger of Christians evading the point by spiritualising poverty, or by thinking that this Beatitude was addressed only to other people, Luke sets the matter straight: “Blessed are you who are poor.” And to make sure we get the point, he adds, “But woe to you who are rich.”
It is true that there are some wealthy people who share their wealth generously. And it is possible to place our trust in God even if we are wealthy; but in most cases it is unlikely that we will. It is in our nature to think only of feathering our own nest, and to buy ourselves out of all difficulties if we can. Let’s not destroy all hope by saying that this is deep in our nature. In itself it is a superficial tendency. But it is possible, if we don’t mind ourselves, to become superficial all the way down.
To rely on wealth for everything is to take the easiest course; it is not to reach out, and it is not to reach in. I don’t have to reach out to others (and soon I get out of the habit of reaching out to God). And I don’t have to reach into my interior resources (my pocket is not my interior). This ultimately isolates me from others and from my deepest self. We often hear of immensely wealthy people who have become virtual recluses. They have chosen to buy their own private world, and to worship Mammon, the god who can be bought. It must be a very lonely world. The only thing left for them is the “conspicuous display of wealth,” and there are plenty of celebrity magazines in which to display it.
The curious thing is that these magazines have a huge circulation. The super-rich must represent some kind of dream that many people have. It is a fruitless dream, is it not? Our faith calls us to dream of a world of “justice, love and peace,” and not only to dream of it but to work for it in every way we can. We have to watch our dreams, because we become what we dream. We are called to live a life that is radically different in its attitude to power and wealth, a life in which the world’s values are devalued and what the world despises is held in highest regard.
We always want more of something or other. There’s a kind of black hole at the centre of our being. I know a man who lives a materially poor life but he devotes all his time to reading: newspapers, books, magazines, the internet…. Everything goes in, nothing comes out. It is just a variation on the same theme. There are many variations: greed for love, for recognition, for entertainment, for anything that will fill the void.
Luke’s gospel has much to say to us about wealth and poverty: see, for example, the parable of the man who stored up treasures for himself (12:16-21), and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31). He is attempting to save us from the great deception.