In the Gospel, Saint Luke draws a distinction in the opening lines between “The Large Gathering of Disciples” and “The Great Crowd of People.” All of who came to either be cured of illness, or to hear the prophetic words of Jesus. If we can imagine a world with little scientific knowledge, no antibiotics, and very few doctors, it is easy to understand the motives of the crowd seeking healing. There must have been a great many people willing to grasp at any straw to be cured. And a healer like Jesus, who seemed to have complete power over any affliction, and could cure any disease with just the words from his mouth, must of seemed like a gift from heaven to them. These were people crying out in need, these were the truly poor, and so often we read of how Jesus' heart went out to them. The crowd of Disciples on the other hand, were those who wanted to hear what Christ has to say. They didn't especially desire a cure, perhaps they had already received one, but they were more attracted to his revolutionary teaching. They wanted to know more, they wanted something much greater than a healing, they wanted the key to eternal life.
Waiting patiently for Jesus to come down from the hill where he had gone to pray, these disciples must have been hoping to hear more words of wisdom and inspiration from him. The atmosphere must have been electric. Jesus had just finished the night in prayer, having just selected the 12 Apostles, and now returning he focuses his eyes not on poor, but upon His disciples to give them yet another teaching. The teaching that the disciples waited so long to hear must of come upon them as a bombshell.
To understand the significance of this teaching we must first understand who these disciples were. The disciples would probably have been the equivalent of the middle class of today. They were not hurting, they had no need for a cure, they could afford to travel, and they had no hesitation waiting around to hear Jesus speak. These were no common people desperate for their next piece of bread. And Jesus says to them: Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, and weeping.
What... They must have been shocked. This was not the expected teaching. These people were not poor, hungry, or weeping. They must have been staggered to hear Jesus comparing them so unfavorably to the surrounding crowd of the sick and poor who were crying out for healing.
So what was the message to the disciples, and what is the message for all of us here today? Jesus is telling us that the very values that we hold so dear, prosperity, security, happiness, and everything we strive so hard to achieve for our children and ourselves are practically worthless when it comes to considering the values of the Kingdom of God. It actually is poverty, starvation, and sorrow that are at the top of his list. And he goes on to say: “happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, call you a criminal, on account of the Son of Man.”
WOW! We crave respect, acceptance, honor, and respectability, and Jesus tells us that the very opposite is what will gain us the Kingdom of Heaven. And even those welcome words of the gospel: “On account of the son of Man”, doesn't give us much comfort. We don't want to be unliked, persecuted, or laughed at. In fact, we will do almost anything to avoid it; it doesn't really matter on whose account it is for. Isn't this really true about us.
We don't even need to hear the rest of the Gospel message: “Alas for you who are rich, had your fill, or laugh, or when people speak well of you,” We know that this actually means more of the same.
And these are called the Beatitudes – The Blessings! This is supposed to be Good News! It surely is good news for the poor and the needy, really good news for them, but is it good news for rest of us?
Now we have come to the core of the matter. And the point is that the Christian life takes us where we don't expect. Sometimes where we don't want to go, and it demands a very great deal from us. It demands that we give up our cozy assumptions; it demands that we take the harder road; it demands that we really do live for others and not for ourselves. These are difficult teachings and none of us ever really manage to live up to them successfully, but we know in our hearts that this is what Jesus desires. This is real Christianity. What Christ desires of us is so counter-cultural, if we truly lived what he teaches, most people would think we have lost it. Yet who are we to listen to: the world, or Christ?
In Closing, and Returning to the message of the Gospel and the message for us today. You must decide: Are you the poor, the hungry, or the sick, that are to hear the reassuring message that you are blessed, and that your reward will be great in heaven. Or are you like the disciples, finding it difficult to hear and believe Christ's words that your life is actually inferior to those who seem beneath you?
Not unlike the Disciples waiting to hear Jesus' words, they wanted to know the key to eternal life, so is our desire as well. Today we have heard it! Are we listening? Are we willing to hear and apply Christ's message to our lives? Do we truly desire eternal life? Do we truly desire to follow Christ? The Beatitudes are blessings only if we apply them to our lives. The Gospel message is the Good news for all who believe that Christ is our Lord and Savior, for all who follow his way, and For All who listen and respond.