Dorothy Day, great pioneer of the Catholic Worker movement, was once accosted by a fellow Catholic who was of the opinion that Day’s radical stance of living for and with the poor was a bit over the top. Day replied to him, “Go home and read the four gospels. Then we can talk.”
Can we talk frankly about the demands of the Beatitudes and Woes as presented this week in Luke 6:20-30?
First we have to take the nice music away – you know, the kind that makes the beatitudes feel smooth and lovely. Then we have to get out our brushes and brooms and whisk away the glitter, and then question the notion that these words are sweet and silky to “taste and see.” Quite frankly, Luke’s beatitudes are harder to hear and harder to chew than those in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor. Not in spirit, as we might hope to be – just poor. The kingdom is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry – not metaphor – hungry for the presence of God or the Eucharist or peace on Earth. Just plain hungry, unable to find enough to eat. The kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who weep – not about your sinfulness or the many sorrows of the world. Just weeping – the comfortless sobbing out of loss or illness or maltreatment or death. You will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, insult you, slander you, because of your connection with me. Exult as they shame and shun you, for you are being treated as the prophets were, and your reward in heaven is great. (Wait – aren’t we supposed to make the Gospel attractive?)
Now Luke turns to Woes. Woe to the rich, who’ve got enough in reserve for a comfortable retirement, woe to the fine diners and wine tasters, woe to the party people, to the computer gamers, to those beering and cheering their teams at sports bars. Alas, because what you consider the good life will be taken from you. And those of you who bask in the approval of others – well, drink it in now because it’s not of value to God’s future.
Do you find this a bit unnerving? Just as it was harsh and upsetting to Jesus’ listeners, so it is to me. I prefer more soothing scriptures. I worry – I have such little grasp of God’s truth and ways of loving. Do my family, my education, my work, my play, the comforts that I take for granted have me headed into the woes, not into the blessings?
At the end of the O Lumen, we sing to our brother Dominic, “Preacher of grace, unite us with the blessed.” Suppose those blessed ones aren’t just those who dwell in heavenly splendor. What if the blessed are the poor, the hungry, those crushed by sorrow, the unwashed and the unlovable. What if Jesus’ intent wasn’t that we try to spiritualize our way into the company of the blessed, but that we get the ice bucket emptied on us? That we’re shocked regularly by the hugeness and contrariness of God’s point of view, and wonder, as did the disciples elsewhere in the Gospel, “Then who can be saved?” Which side are we on?
These are difficult questions, and undoubtedly what Dorothy Day was engaged in as she strove to join herself with the “blessed.” But we don’t earn the kingdom. It is God’s to give, and Jesus made it very clear that God’s great desire is to gather us all – not just there and then, but here and now.