According to Webster, “beatitude” means perfect blessedness or happiness. But when you read the beatitudes, you seemingly find anything but happiness. It is the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the persecuted who are blessed in the sight of God. In Luke’s gospel (Lk 6:20-26), Jesus even adds woes for those who are rich, full, mirthful and popular. It would appear that worldly success inevitably leads to spiritual misery.
I once heard a preacher say that many of God’s people look more like they’ve been baptized in pickle juice than in water. Is this holiness? Is piety all about being miserable, unsuccessful and glum? What are we to make of Jesus’ alarming words?
The last thing we ought to do is to tame Jesus’ hard sayings. The Lion of Judah does not respond favorably when we try to domesticate him. But neither should we be literalists and interpret the beatitudes out of context.
Jeremiah helps us see what Jesus is getting at in the Beatitudes: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jer 17:5-8 ). Whether our possessions happen to be money, a business, a spouse, or children, they become an obstacle when we find our security and sense of self-worth in them. Our ultimate security can only be in one place, and our natural tendency is to look for it in someone or something we can see. To look for security in an invisible “Someone” is more than natural — it’s supernatural. To do this we need supernatural gifts called faith and hope.
Faith is really about finding our ultimate security and identity in God’s love, protection and help. Is it wrong to take pleasure in a growing business or a loving spouse? No. But to find your security in them sets you up for heartbreak. Ask the investor in Florida real estate who bought big just before the market plummeted.
The supernatural virtue of hope is about what you are looking forward to in the future, being more excited about the promise of heaven than any earthly blessing. Is it wrong to look forward to a vacation in Europe, moving up in the company, or your child graduating from college? Not at all. But if you think you will find your ultimate fulfillment in these things, you are under a great illusion. Ask the upwardly mobile executive who climbs to the top of the corporate ladder only to find emptiness there. Saint Paul said it well: “If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men” (1 Cor 15:19).
We’ve all been given the supernatural gifts of faith and hope in baptism. But these two virtues are like spiritual muscles that must be exercised and developed. If you don’t use them, you lose them. And the only way to grow them is to put some stress on them. This hurts, of course.
So what have you done lately to develop faith and hope? Or better yet, are you grateful for the challenges God has permitted in your life in order to help you develop your faith and hope? Losses in business, declines in health, disappointments in relationships — these can all be seen as just so many lamentable annoyances … or as opportunities to grow.
When faith and hope are well developed, they impart a kind of strength and joy that cannot be taken away by the trials and tribulations that devastate superficial happiness. Saint Francis of Assisi had no possessions and was in constant pain in the last few years of his life, yet he was one of the most joyful persons that ever lived. That’s because faith and hope matured in him and produced beatitude here and glory in the age to come.
The beatitudes do not demand a morose Christianity. They are all about laying the foundations of an unshakable joy and a peace that passes all understanding.
Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio is a Texas-based business owner and theologian. He has spoken to numerous Legatus chapters across the country.
The Beatitudes and woes (Luke 6:21-26)
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil because of the Son of Man! Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger.
Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.