And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him…And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did the fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! For ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
Luke 6, 17. 20-26
Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
The discourse on the beatitudes is well known to the general public. I don’t believe you need to be a Christian to know it, as it is embedded in the collective imagination. What the vast majority certainly do not know is that this discourse comes from one of the oldest documents created by the earliest Christian communities, a document known as Q. This was a missing text and that was inscribed in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It was produced by travelling communities who wandered Galilee and Judaea delivering the message of the Kingdom of God, key to understanding Jesus’s plan. Mark’s gospel, which does not include Q, makes an allusion to these communities, when the angel invites the disciples who are looking for Jesus’s body in the tomb to search for him in Galilee. The Q communities building the Kingdom of God are in Galilee. It would seem that Q is not concerned either with death or with resurrection: what matters to them is the message and its interpretative core which is found in the famous beatitudes.
We have two accounts of the beatitudes. In Matthew they number eight and in Luke four. The specialists agree that the originals are those of Luke and that Matthew reproduces them to integrate his project of featuring Jesus as the new Moses, who announces his law from the mount. In Luke, meanwhile, we meet the discourse in a plain. More particularly, in the coastal plain that separates the plateau of Galilee from the Mediterranean. There a vast gathering of people meet: as many Jews as Gentiles, having come out of Judaea and Tyre and Sidon. What identifies them is their belonging to the dispossessed layers of society at that time. And it is to this group of subordinate people that Jesus directs his speech: “blessed be ye poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” This is revolutionary discourse. The Jews were expecting him to say that they were the blessed ones, because the Kingdom was theirs. The pure, the law-abiding, those who bask in divine favour through their wealth are untroubled, as everything tells them that God is on their side. Yet Jesus breaks with all of this and declares that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor. And not just any poor. In Greek there are two terms for designating the poor. The first is penes, which refers to the poor who get by with the little that they have. But the Gospel uses the term ptokh’os, who are the solemn or extreme poor, the wretched, who cannot sustain themselves or go on living by themselves. Well, the Kingdom of God is for these who are the last. The other beatitudes reinforce this idea: blessed are ye that hunger now…blessed are ye that weep now. The wretched, the hungry and those who suffer, these are the ones appointed to the Kingdom in their own right. The adjective of time now reinforces the idea that their misery is a material one, not simple spiritual destitution.
The fourth beatitude, addressed to those who are persecuted for Jesus’s sake, was added by Luke to include those who were building the Kingdom and were persecuted for this, as Jesus himself was. Here there is no trace of any mystification of death, no glimmer of triumphalism in the resurrection. What we face is the first Christians’ clear commitment to following Jesus of Galilee, to the plan of the Kingdom of God for the poor and oppressed. What we face is the essential core of the message of good news: subversive yesterday, today and for good.
[Image by Brigitte is happy … about coffee time :)) from Pixabay]