Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now 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. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But 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."
I am struck by a minor detail in today’s passage. We read that, before giving what seems to be a comforting speech to His afflicted apostles, Jesus raised his eyes towards them. In Luke’s account, this is the beginning of the Sermon of the Mount and his wording makes it difficult to depict the scene. Was Jesus seated and looking up at the disciples who stood around him? Or was he standing at the foot of a hill, addressing his audience like a speaker in a amphitheatre? Maybe. Luke did not specify this. However, he did choose the verb epaíro (greek: to lift up) to emphasis literally that Jesus was not talking down on them. He was talking from somewhere below of where the disciples were. He abased Himself.
This small setting of the scene can help us capture the particular tone of the beatitudes. Jesus was not merely comforting His afflicted disciples. Jesus’ “low” position suggests that He is Himself the afflicted, the hungry, the weeping one. How often have we heard and said ourselves that our suffering can be united with Christ’s! It feels different to hear that from somewhere “above” though. Jesus knows that. He knows that, in moments of trouble, we don’t want to be “talked down on;” we want company.
In a certain way, this simple gesture by Jesus to lean down and look at us from “below” resembles His whole work of salvation. He could have pulled all the necessary strings from up high. By becoming flesh, He decided to approach us from another angle instead. He humbled Himself to the point of suffering hunger, sadness, and the hatred of His beloved people; in fact, they “denounced His name as evil” -- He who is purely good and loving! Precisely through the purity of this love has He redeemed us. When goodness meets evil, evil challenges the good and tempts it. The temptation consists in compromising the integrity of goodness through selfishness, distrust, or anger. Jesus, the goodness incarnate, defeated evil by not stopping to be good; by enduring the bitter consequences of love until the painful end. And so, Jesus died. And in His death, His goodness was untouched. Thus, He defeated evil. For He suffered in His own flesh what it means to be good in this fallen world.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus felt compelled to predict the fate of those who, like him, want to follow the path of goodness in this world.They too will be tempted to abandon their path of goodness. He knew what it would mean. He knew that this would provoke evil up to the point of testing them greatly. The disciples were most likely oblivious of these implied sufferings. Similarly, we too struggle to fathom why being good must sometimes be so hard. Why is goodness so greatly challenged in our world, we ask. This is why we need to hear Jesus’ sermon as much as the first disciples. And, like He did when talking to them, Jesus raises His eyes towards us when saying: “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”