Feb. 16, 2019

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019

THE TWO WAYS: BLESSINGS OR CURSE

Readings: 1st- Jer. 17:5-8; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20; Gospel- Lk. 6:17, 20-26

The beatitudes can be said to be Christ’s punchline in his teaching. The reason is both because of its rich content and the manner of its delivery. In terms of delivery, the beatitudes show one instance where Jesus comes down to stand on the stretch of level ground with his audience. He ministers to a diverse group of people, and teaches a vast number of people “from all parts of Judaea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,” (Lk. 6:17-18). The beatitudes constitute a far-reaching spiritual and theological message for today’s world. They present two consequences for human choices in life: the way of blessedness or the way of curse. 

First, Jesus reveals the great conditions of discipleship and salvation to his listeners. That is the positive reward known as blessings: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” That’s the first option. 

Different types of blessings exist. Blessings can come directly from God as a reward or favor for good acts performed. When Abraham responded to God’s invitation to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God said to Abraham, “I swear by myself, that because you have acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore” (Gen. 22:15). Blessings can be given by a priest or an anointed man of God upon someone. When Abraham came back from his victory, he encountered the priest Melchizedek. Scriptures say, “Being a priest of God Most High, Melchizedek blessed Abram with the words, “Blessed be Abram by God most High, the creator of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14: 18-20). Blessings can also come from one individual upon another in the form of prayerful wish. Saint Paul enjoins believers, “Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them” (Rom. 12:15). However, one way to be blessed is to do the will of God. We sing in the Psalms, “O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Ps. 128:1). 

The unfortunate alternative to blessings is the way of curse. Jesus states, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” What we see in these statements is that the present or immediate conditions and actions greatly determine what happens in the future. There is nothing wrong in having a quality life, nothing wrong about being happy. There’s nothing wrong about having a good name. But there is everything wrong in not helping others with one’s riches. There’s everything wrong in being selfish. There’s everything wrong in being a tyrant. Those are precisely what Jesus condemns. The rich have received their consolation here unlike the poor who will be compensated. Those who are filled now, those who laugh, and those spoken well of infamously, will all receive their punishment at the end of time.  

People dwell in curses simply because of their lack of understanding of the true meaning of life. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). That’s misery, that’s the reason for woes or curses. Those whose riches lead to neglect of the poor, surely, laugh now. Such persons derive happiness from their possessions. They circle within their fellow rich often times living a compensatory life. They only give favors for favors and have nothing to do with the poor. They laugh and smile now based totally on their riches. They will seize laughing sometime in eternal future like the biblical rich man who laughed at poor Lazarus. 

Ordinarily, everyone loves blessings, and would want blessings wished or prayed over him. In the Old Testament, God spoke to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and say: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. You will say: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his face and bring you peace” (Num. 6:22-26). Jeremiah uses the metaphor of a tree planted beside the waters to describe the meaning of blessedness, “He is like the tree planted besides the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: its leaves stay green.” Certainly, we all would want to be blessed.

Jesus reminds us that blessedness comes from real poverty which involves self-emptying. Real hunger is the desire for God and for supernatural things. The spiritual benefits are far more than any immediate gratification since God is the source of all blessings. Saint Paul recounts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). 

We have to work for our blessings. We have to keep trusting God. The way of Blessedness is not a checklist to be marked off on our calendar of events or a duty to be checked off on our Day-Timer. It is a way of life to be constantly lived out which culminates in the eternal reward at the end of time. We are blessed when we empty ourselves of earthly riches and glories. We are blessed when we hunger to do good. We are blessed when we to defend the oppressed. We are blessed when we suffer for the sake of God by speaking up for the weak. We are blessed when we defend the rights of the unborn. We are blessed when we place God at the center of our lives. 

One of my friends, each time I asked him, “How are you?” would always respond, “I am blessed.” Sure, we want to stay blessed. Remember these words from Jesus, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Lk. 6:22-23). Work out your blessings here, and enjoy them perpetually in heaven. “We are indeed blessed.”