I find the Beatitudes really difficult, to preach on. They seems to turn everything that we believe on its head and force us to think completely outside the box. Its no wonder Jesus got crucified when he came out with statements such as we find there. Perhaps in order to get some inkling of what he meant we need to go to the first reading where Jeremiah contrasts the person who relies on things of flesh with the person who trusts in the Lord. He says, ‘A curse on the man whose heart turns away from the Lord’ in contrast to the one who trusts in the Lord who is like a tree planted by the waterside that always bears fruit.
It’s so easy as we go through life to trust in all the wrong things, things that are transient and ultimately will let us down. That can include people, money, possessions or power. St Catherine of Sienna said very wisely one time that, ‘We will never find real happiness in life until we come to terms with the fact that everything and everyone will ultimately disappoint us.’ That’s a statement we shouldn’t even be shocked at because if we know ourselves at all, we recognize that we are not perfect and will disappoint others as well. Yet so often we pin divine expectations on others expecting them to meet all our needs. In the context of a relationship which has little or no spiritual dimension both partners can be placing an enormous burden on each other by expecting that person to fulfill all their needs for love and support. It’s like making a false god out of ones partner and false gods will always let us down.
Going back to the beatitudes and the attitudes that Jesus is trying to get across. In the eyes of the world the rich appear to be blessed by God and the poor cursed. But Jesus spoke about the strange poverty of those who live for the wealth of this world and the strange wealth of those who trust in God. He also spoke of the strange hunger of those whose only food is the food of this world and the strange hunger of those who seek the food that only a relationship with God can give. Likewise he spoke of the strange sadness of those who laugh and the strange joy of those who know how to weep, also of the strange weakness of the strong and the strength of the weak who put their trust in God.
Poverty hunger and sorrow are all too real. So too are wealth, plenitude and happiness. One set is attractive the other is not. But which is which? Jesus seems to be turning our understanding upside down.
He’ s not saying that it’s a good thing to be starving or to be miserable because in another breath he said that he came that we might have life and have it to the full.
The truth, as I understand it, is that in order to come into any kind of spiritual awareness and trust in God we actually need experiences where we feel a sense of inner emptiness, even in the midst of all that we have.
Also, that we need experiences of disappointment before we will ever turn to the God who will never disappoint. As someone once said disappointments can be Gods appointments.
Likewise we need experiences of failure and weakness before we will ever turn to God for strength.
At another level a certain amount of suffering is necessary in all of our lives before we are prepared to change. All the ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ in the world won’t bring about one iota of change. Its only when we have suffered enough, and are sick to the death of ourselves that we eventually surrender to God and accept His help. Like the alcoholic it’s a long journey from saying that he has things under control and that he or she will give up the drink, to the point of admitting their helplessness and then letting go and letting God.
There has to be something in all our lives that is capable of awakening our souls and bringing us to God. Whatever that might be the chances are that we will initially regard it as the great stumbling block and perhaps only years later see that God was using it as a mighty stepping stone helping us to reach out to Him.
None of us wish to encounter grief or sadness in our lives. Yet they are part and parcel of life and they do serve to make us deeper more compassionate and even more aware of the things that are really important in life that we could otherwise take for granted.
We don’t like having to deal with problems and difficulties. We would prefer life to be plain sailing. Yet in terms of growth and personal development and in deepening our relationship with God do they not also have their place. An Arab saying is that too much sunshine makes a desert.
Ultimately what the Beatitudes are saying is that there is another way of looking at everything, nothing is ever as it seems and thinking outside the box is necessary in order to find the inner life that we seek.