Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Luke 6:20-23: Happy are you!
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God
Happy are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Happy are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
(Luke 6:20-23)

Luke has the misfortune of writing the less famous version of these sayings known as the “Beatitudes”. While Matthew mentions eight, here we find only four. Another difference is the audience: Matthew very consciously makes the reader understand that Jesus is speaking both to the disciples and the larger crowd. His teaching is not only directed to his closest disciples but also to the general public.

Luke’s version is more direct, more personal: “Jesus looked up at his disciples and said...”. He looks up, because in those days a teacher was the one seated and his students were all standing. This beginning helps us to understand the importance of this moment. Not only is this the very first teaching for the apostles he just chose (v.12-16), but also, much more than in Matthew, it is a very direct and personal message. Not Matthew’s “Happy are the...” a general teaching, but “Happy are you ….” a very personal one. Jesus is talking about the concrete situations that these disciples face or will face in the near future.

The paradoxical nature of these sayings is so obvious (poverty and hunger are in no way reasons for happiness) that we are obliged to seek the deeper meaning of these words. Jesus obviously does not wish to teach us that poverty and hunger, weeping and being hated are good things or realities Christians should long for. So why then would Jesus’ first teaching to his newly chosen apostles go so directly against all human logic?

A first step would be to look a bit closer to the word “happy”. It is hard to find the right word. Also the word ’blessed’ that we find in many Bibles is also a rather limiting translation, for the risk is that we see these verses merely as a teaching on personal piety. But “happy” is not much better, for what it refers to goes beyond the description of an emotional state. It’s rather a statement of fact: those disciples, who are now poor, hungry, etc are righteous is God’s eyes. Although their suffering now is real, their blessedness for doing God’s will is still more real. Their happiness or blessedness is both an objective state of affairs for their current situation and the promise of a joy to come.

At its heart Jesus wants, as is true for the whole of the gospel, to show us the incredible newness and fundamental otherness of this reality that is the Kingdom of heaven. He wishes to encourage his disciples, wanting them to understand that, although following him might mean going through times of trial, a joy is already present. Hunger and poverty, weeping and hatred are sometimes unavoidable, for also the prophets of the Old Testament faced suffering when they tried to do God’s will. But these situations are not the deepest reality; behind this, already just visible, God’s Kingdom is present.

And so this teaching becomes a life. One that first of all Christ led; he faced all these hardships before the splendor of the resurrection was fully revealed.

- How can we accept that following Christ means going through hardships and at the same time believe that God wants us to be happy? In what does true happiness consist?

- Where around us do we see glimpses of the Kingdom of heaven, especially in the midst of difficulties?

Other bible meditations:

Last updated: 1 April 2024