In our Gospel reading today Jesus presents to his disciples what is known as the sermon on the plain. In it, he lays out a very strong contrast between the haves and the have nots, between the rich and the poor. “Blessed are you who are poor but woe to you who are rich, Blessed are you who are mourning but woe to you who are laughing. Blessed are you who are hungry, but woe to you who have had your fill.” To our ears, a difficult message because it raises feelings of guilt. Do I have too much while other people go without.
On one level Jesus words are definitely a challenge. While a happy and carefree life might seem like a blessing, if we are self-sufficient and we haven’t got a care in the world what would remind us to turn to God. But to get the full impact of what Jesus is saying we must go deeper. Jesus is not condemning wealth or laughter or having enough to eat. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that we give away all that we have and live like beggars. But he was recognizing that in our world poverty exists, people do go hungry and there are people who’s lives are filled with grief. At a time when wealth and prestige were seen to be evidence of God’s blessing in one’s life at a time when illness and poverty were seen as punishment for some transgression against God by you or your ancestors Jesus was saying no, that’s not the case.
Jesus tells us that God is with these poor ones and God is especially with them because they are reaching out for God in return. And Jesus backed up his words with the example of his own life. He chose to lead a life of simplicity, without a roof over his head that he could call his own, forgoing family and children in a culture where children were thought to be the currency by which God repaid faithfulness. He underwent humiliation and torture despite his personal innocence. Jesus freely chose to align himself with the poor to show that God loves us all. For who amoung us can say we have never felt grief, who can say that they have never hungered out of loneliness, for someone who would understand our deepest fears and needs. Who amoung us can say they have never felt excluded, left out. At our core there is not one of us who can say that we have no need of God’s friendship in our lives.
The invitation of the Gospel today is not to raise undue guilt or make us feel bad for enjoying our life. Precisely it is to remind us of what a gift life is. That in whatever situation we find ourselves, even if it is the most difficult situation we are truly blessed by God and God is close by.