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He 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; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
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.”
An Uncomfortable Contrast
I’m not sure there’s a more dramatic contrast between the values of the world and the values of the Kingdom than the one sketched out by Jesus in these verses. I mean, he lays out a reality that’s different from anything I’ve seen before, one in which the burdened are considered blessed and the content are cursed. And even though that must offer peace to folks who are struggling through their very existence, it sure doesn’t offer much peace to me. I mean, give me a break, this is one uncomfortable contrast, especially for those of us who are a lot closer to rich, full and happy than poor, hungry and sad. My goodness, not only is it easier for us to identify with that end of the spectrum, as a society, we tend to admire and to reward those who are even more wealthy, full and happy than us. But the idea that Jesus doesn’t do the same kind of thing, man, this is just uncomfortable. And this probably explains why we try to spiritualize it the way we do, you know, so that we can see ourselves as people we’re not, and I’m talking about poor and hungry and sad. But we do it anyway, deceiving ourselves and discounting the folks for whom this applies.
And for that reason, I think we should learn to live with this uncomfortable contrast, I mean, instead of pretending that we’re burdened, maybe we should thank God that we’re not, even though we know that the time may come when he’ll balance the scales. But more than that, maybe we should take some of what we have and share it with those who don’t. In other words, rather than giving more to those who already have more than enough, maybe we should do a little scale balancing right here on earth. And even though that may not make this contrast comfortable, it may reduce some of the discomfort.