Today’s gospel passage is Luke’s version of the beatitudes. Matthew gave his account of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, while Luke gave the beatitudes on the plane. For Matthew, there are eight of the beatitudes, while for Luke, there are four beatitudes and four woes or curses. Matthew and Luke’s beatitudes begin with “Blessed are the poor.” This teaching from Jesus was revolutionary. Before the time that Jesus made this pronouncement, the world had a different understanding; the world saw the rich as blessed and the poor as cursed. The world saw wealth as a blessing from God and poverty as a curse. But Jesus came and declared the poor as blessed.
What does it mean to be blessed? When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor…,” what did he mean? A few years ago, I was home with my family on vacation. We had family prayers from time to time. After each prayer, my mom would say, “Father, give us your blessing,” and I would bless the family “In the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then, I would say, “Let us bless the Lord!” and my family members would respond, “Thanks be to God!” I had no idea that my then seven-year-old nephew was observing what I was saying and doing. After one of the night prayers, my nephew followed me to my room and asked, “Father, why do you always say, ‘Let us bless the Lord?’ Can we bless God? Do we have what it takes to bless God? Should God not be the one to bless us?” I had no idea that such a question was coming my way. I went blank; I didn’t know how to answer. Then I remembered that my nephew saw me as a model. He is my namesake; he is Emmanuel. He does everything he sees me doing, and he wants to be like his uncle-priest. He believes I have the answers to all questions. So, I had to redeem my image. I quickly thought of a way out, and I remembered how much I loved tracing the origin of words. I then told him, “You see, the verb ‘to bless’ in Latin is benedicere, which comes from two words, bene, and dicere. Bene means, ‘well’ or ‘fine’ and dicere means ‘to say’ or ‘to speak.’ So, benedicere means ‘to say something well about somebody or something.’ So, when we say, ‘Let us bless the Lord, we are not giving God something that he lacked, rather, we are saying something well about God, we are acknowledging the goodness of God.” He thanked me, and we went to sleep.
The following day, my nephew went to my mom and asked, “Grandma, do you know what we mean when we say, ‘Let us bless the Lord?’” My mom said, “I don’t know, thank God, Father is home, go and ask him.” My nephew then said, “Don’t worry, Grandma, I don’t need to ask Father; I can tell you.” And to my greatest surprise and delight, he repeated what I told him the previous night. So, when we say, “Let us bless the Lord,” we are acknowledging the goodness of God; we are not giving anything new to God.
Similarly, when Jesus made the pronouncement, “Blessed are the poor,” he was not giving something new to the poor; he was acknowledging what the poor already had. He said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” Makarios is the Greek adjective for “blessed.” When translated to English, makarios could mean “blessed” or “happy.” That is why in some translations of the Bible, you would hear or read, “Blessed are the poor,” while in other translations, it is “Happy are the poor.” Also, the word order in the Greek rendition of the beatitudes is not exactly like we have it in English. For example, the English would say “Blessed are the poor,” but the verb “to be,” that is, “are,” is not in the Greek rendition. In Greek, it is more like an exclamation, “Oh, the blessedness of the poor!” So, it is an acknowledgment of what is already in the poor.
What led to this pronouncement about the poor? Jesus addressed these words originally to his disciples. Remember, last Sunday, in the previous chapter, after the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus called Simon Peter, James, and John, and they left everything and followed Jesus. In today’s chapter, Jesus is acknowledging what he has seen in them; that even though they left everything to follow Jesus, they do not lack the fulfillment that people are looking for in the world. Oh, the blessedness that is in them! The central message is that heaven is not just somewhere ahead; heaven is not just something we are looking forward to in the future. For the followers of Jesus, heaven begins now. To you who are poor, Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” because you are no longer attached to material things. You are now happy like you are in heaven. For the rich, for those who rely on material wealth, the material does not last forever; when the material diminishes, their happiness diminishes; when the material is lost, their happiness is lost. But for the poor who detach themselves from the material, they have now attached themselves to that which is spiritual, to that which lasts forever, to that which no one can take away from them. So, Jesus declares such people as blessed, as happy. My dearly beloved in Christ, if you are giving alms to the poor, and in your arms-giving, you are expecting a reward in the life to come, something is missing. The joy already begins from your giving. The fact of your giving should already give you joy. So, as we reflect on the blessedness that Jesus proclaimed for the poor today, let us pray that that happiness may be wholly and entirely ours, beginning from now until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.