A Double Blessing

September 13, 2023
Wednesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor—Memorial

“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.” Luke 6:24–26

Is it dangerous to be rich, to be filled, to laugh, and to have all speak well of you? According to Jesus, it appears so. Why would Jesus warn against these things? And before that, why would He pronounce it blessed to be poor, hungry, weeping and insulted? Essentially, Jesus was condemning four common sins—greed, gluttony, intemperance, and vainglory—and promoting their opposite virtues.

Poverty, in and of itself, is not sufficient for holiness. But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus declares it blessed to be poor, literally. This goes further than Matthew’s Gospel which says it is blessed to be “poor in spirit.” To be poor in spirit is to be spiritually detached from the material things of this world so that you can be fully open to the riches of God. One common tendency among those with material wealth is to rationalize that even though they have many things, they are detached from them. Hopefully that is the case. However, in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus directly says, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “woe to you who are rich.” In this teaching, we discover a second blessing not found in Matthew’s version. In addition to spiritual detachment (poverty of spirit) being identified as a blessing, literal poverty is proclaimed as the easier way to achieve this spiritual detachment. Material wealth, though not a sin in and of itself, brings with it many temptations toward attachment, self-reliance, and self-indulgence. Thus, spiritually speaking, it is easier to be detached when one is poor, rather than when one is rich. This is a hard truth for both the poor and the rich to accept. The poor often want to be rich, thinking that if they were, they would share their wealth with others and remain detached. The rich often enjoy being rich and believe that they are more spiritually detached than they actually are.

Being “hungry” is also identified as a blessed state, whereas being “filled” is a dangerous state. When you are literally hungry, either from fasting or from lack of an abundance of food, it is easier to turn your hunger and thirst toward God so as to be filled by Him and to more easily trust in His providence. An abundance of food, especially fine food, tempts you with a gluttonous satisfaction that makes it difficult to hunger and thirst for God and His holy will in a complete way. Therefore, if you refrain from indulgence and experience hunger, you will be blessed to be free from gluttony and even the temptation toward it.

“Laughing” and “weeping” in this case are not referring to joy and despair. Rather, they are referring to those who are always seeking fun and an indulgent life. Many people live for fun, entertainment, and momentary pleasures. Weeping refers to those who have discovered that the fleeting pleasures of the world can never satisfy. Constant entertainment, therefore, brings with it a real temptation, whereas the loss of that form of fleeting pleasure helps eliminate that temptation.

Finally, Jesus declares it blessed to be hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced as evil on account of Him rather than being spoken well of by all. In this case, Jesus is referring to the praise that comes from things that mean nothing from an eternal perspective. When all speak well of us, praising qualities and accomplishments that are not true Christian virtues, we will be tempted to rely upon that praise for our satisfaction. But this form of satisfaction is nothing other than vainglory and never truly satisfies in the end. However, when one sees and praises the virtues of God within us, God is praised first and foremost, and we are blessed to share in God’s glory.

Reflect, today, upon whether you prefer to be rich, to indulge in the best of foods, to be constantly entertained and to be the envy of others, or whether you see the temptations this type of life brings. Reflect also upon the concrete spiritual blessings that come to those who are literally poor, hungry, temperate and humble. This is a very demanding teaching from Jesus. If it doesn’t sit well with you, then know that it is a sign that you still have various attachments in life. Reflect, especially, upon the beatitude that is most difficult to embrace, and make that beatitude the source of reflection and prayer. Doing so with honesty and openness will result in you being among those who are truly blessed in the eyes of God.

My blessed Lord, You were poor, hungry, temperate and humble to the perfect degree. For these reasons, You were filled with perfect virtue and were satisfied to the greatest degree. Please open my eyes to the deceptions of this world so that I can live with You a life of true holiness, experiencing the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, I trust in You!