Most congregations will hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes next Sunday. It’s more concise than Matthew’s and has a slightly different emphasis on what it means to be poor. The sheer familiarity of the passage is the biggest stumbling block to absorbing its deep meaning for the Christian life.
If God in Christ Jesus blesses the poor, hungry, bereaved, reviled and excluded, it can only mean that those who bear the light of Christ, no matter how feebly, must do the same in the way they live, speak and act, including the positions they take on important matters of public policy.
The sentences that follow the blessings declaring woe to the rich, well fed and contented are not condemnations. They are more in the form of warnings like Danger, Danger! The rich are in danger of assuming they deserve to be rich, and it’s no fault of theirs if the poor are forced to remain poor. The well fed can take it for granted, failing to apprehend the injustice of hunger. Those comfortably contented can dismiss the conditions of life that oppress others. They can become exclusive, looking down on those left behind.
We are called to continue the work of blessing as followers of Jesus Christ, and to be wary of our own temptation to unmerited self righteousness.