If you want to know Jesus, you need to know that He turns everything upside down.
Jesus says blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated on His account.
He proclaims woe to those who are rich, are filled, are laughing, are well-liked.
What’s going on here? What is Jesus saying?
Jesus is telling us that, in the fullness of time, God will right every wrong. God will relieve the suffering of the poor, the mourning, and the persecuted. Those who live for themselves, those who hoard their wealth, those who avoid suffering and do not enter into the suffering of others, those who lack empathy, those who would rather be popular than proclaim the gospel – those will be called to account. Their earthly wealth will perish. They will be asked why they neglected their neighbor in his suffering. They will be asked why they valued human friendships over friendship with God.
Jesus calls us to conversion. He also calls us to happiness. The happiness He offers comes from a personal relationship with Him. It comes from following Him. He asks us to imitate Him. Jesus hated hypocrisy. He spoke out frequently against it. He doesn’t ask us to do anything He didn’t do. He Himself was poor. He had no possessions. He had nowhere to lay His head. He trusted in His Heavenly Father to provide for His every need. He entered into our suffering. He had compassion for the crowds that sought Him out, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. He healed those who asked for healing, forgave those who sought forgiveness – and still does to this day. When His friend Lazarus died, and He saw the crowd in mourning, He wept with them. And He proclaimed God’s truth despite fierce opposition, which would reach its terrible culmination with His death on the cross.
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
This is perhaps the most radical teaching of Jesus. No other religious leader calls on His followers to love their enemies. Note that Jesus teaches this because He wants to us to be like His Heavenly Father, who loves all of His children, and continually blesses even those who reject Him. He wants us to be like Him, as He went to the cross for love of us, and even while hanging on the cross He forgave all of us who condemned Him. He knows that hate is a sin that ensnares us and makes us unhappy. To love with all our hearts is into enter into the joy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who love each other always and invite us to share in that love.
“Follow then mercy, that ye may obtain grace. Widely spread is the mercy of God; He pours His rain upon the unthankful, the fruitful earth refuses not its increase to the evil.” -Saint Ambrose
“Great then is the praise of mercy. For this virtue makes us like unto God, and imprints upon our souls certain signs as it were of a heavenly nature.” -Saint Cyril of Alexandria
“Temperance, therefore, brings with it a pure heart; righteousness, mercy; prudence, peace; fortitude, meekness. The virtues are so joined and linked to one another, that he who has one seems to have many; and the Saints have each one especial virtue, but the more abundant virtue has the richer reward.” -Saint Ambrose
Image: The Sermon of the Beatitudes by James Tissot (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).