The contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry intend to help us come to know him, love him and follow him in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. The Exercises of the second week include a contemplation on the Beatitudes. As with the other contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry, we also end this one with the triple colloquy (conversation) of A Meditation on Two Standards.
The core beatitudes, or blessings, of the Gospel of Luke likely originate from “Q”, a pre-gospel source, making it quite possible they were spoken by Jesus himself. While Luke, writing to Gentile Christians, maintains Jesus’ emphasis on the truly poor, oppressed and marginalized of his time, Matthew, writing to Jewish Christians, has spiritualized them and offered them as both the fulfillment of the Torah and a pathway to discipleship with Jesus and his work behalf of the kingdom of God (Mt 5:1).
In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:20-26), Jesus speaks of God’s infinite love and special predilection for those whose greatest hope is their daily survival. The core beatitudes speak to the objectively poor, the hungry, and those who weep as a result of the burdens of daily life. The blessings Jesus offers them are neither passive nor accepting of the unjust conditions that dominate their lives. Rather, they are a message of hope, stating that God recognizes their plight and will soon act to reverse their fortune. The fourth beatitude, added by the early church, addresses those who have walked with, and suffered alongside, Jesus in his work on behalf of the kingdom of God. They also will be rewarded by God’s goodness towards them.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude, 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.
Gustavo Gutiérrez, in “Song and Deliverance” from Voices from the Margin, speaks of God’s love and partiality towards the suffering people of this world, while warning the self-sufficient of the reversal of fortune that awaits them.
“God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are the poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will. The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God, in the gratuitousness and universality of God’s agapeic love.”
Luke contrasts each of these beatitudes with admonitions, or woes, to the self-sufficient who ignore, or are indifferent to, those less fortunate than themselves. Jesus makes clear they will experience a negative judgment and a reversal of their good fortune with the coming of the kingdom of God (Lk 12:15-21; 14:15-24; 16:19-31; 18:22-25).
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Lk 6:20-26)
Luke’s intent in offering his beatitudes is to emphasize that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 61:1-2; Lk 4:18-19), the one who has come to announce a soon to come liberation of the suffering people of Israel and a negative judgment upon those who have not shown enough concern for their plight.
In contemplating Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, we seek to feel God’s love, compassion and desire for justice for the downtrodden of this world, and to experience a deep desire to walk with Jesus in his efforts to both alleviate their misery and help them reclaim their God-given human dignity by speaking truth to power. Simply stated, it is a challenge to live our faith in action on behalf of the kingdom of God.
In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3-12), Jesus speaks to those who are not preoccupied with the daily struggle to survive. Instead, his beatitudes offer a pathway to discipleship with him in humble service to God’s people. In doing so, he spiritualizes Luke’s beatitudes and adds several more.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:3-12)
Ignacio Ellacuría has referred to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as the Magna Carta of the kingdom of God and the very foundation of authentic discipleship with Jesus. In similar fashion, José Gonzalez Faus, sees Matthew’s beatitudes as reflecting the prophetic voice of Jesus and the fundamental attitudes he demands of those who would follow him in this world.
For Gonzalez Faus, the middle verses of Matthew’s beatitudes contain the essential values of discipleship with Jesus. The other beatitudes radiate centrifugally from them as supporting values to Matthew’s core message. In this light, Jesus’ mercy and desire for righteousness are essential to discipleship and account for the passion that dominated Jesus’ life. The gospel stories reveal that Jesus had a profound experience of God’s love for him and it led him into the midst of the human suffering of first-century Palestine. There, he experienced compassion at the sight of those in need. It was from his compassion that he acted to heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sinners and expose the hypocrisy of those who exploited the most vulnerable of society, all as signs of what the kingdom of God would be like in its fullness.
In contemplating Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, we seek to experience God’s love for us despite our participation in human sinfulness, and then out of gratitude for all that we have been given, return that same love to others. It is in living this way that our love reaches its fulfillment in acts of justice on behalf of God’s people and the kingdom of God.
As we reflect upon the depth of our commitment to discipleship with Jesus, let us pray for the courage to put aside self-interest and seek God’s will so that we might truly become poor in spirit. Let us consider what it means to live with an authenticity that not only mourns the sinfulness of our world and church today, but also embodies the meekness and compassion of Jesus in the presence of that sinfulness. Let us engage what it means to have a single-minded focus on the kingdom of God so that our hearts may be purified and able to experience God’s presence in this world, especially among the most vulnerable of society. Finally, let us recognize and accept the inevitable pushback that comes from seeking non-violent ways to peace in the midst of turmoil, all the time trusting that because of our fidelity to God’s will and discipleship with Jesus we will one-day experience the kingdom of God in all its glory. We then end this contemplation with the triple colloquy of a Meditation on Two Standards as mentioned above.
 Puhl, L. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 278.
 “Q” from German: meaning Quelle, source, a hypothetical written collection of Jesus’ sayings that are part of the common material of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not in the Gospel of Mark.
 Byrne, B. Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004), 51-56. See also, Byrne, B, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), 76-78.
 Fitzmyer, J.A. The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, 1981), 627.
 Boring, M.E., “The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Keck, L.E., (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN, 1994), 176.
 Gutiérrez, G. “Song and Deliverance,” Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, ed. Sugirtharajah R.S., (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 132. Agapeic love is the universal love of God for humankind and vice versa. It necessarily extends to the love of one’s neighbor and it is differentiated from philia (brotherly love) and eros (sexual love).
 Meier, J.P., Marginal Jew, Vol. 2, (New York: ABRL, Doubleday, 1994), 317-36. See also, Fitzmyer, J.A., The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, 627-32; Byrne, Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today, 52.
 Boring, M.E., “The Gospel of Matthew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Keck, L.E., 176. Matthew adds the persecution of the righteous. It is unclear whether the other beatitudes are his or are derived from a source other than “Q”.
 Gonzalez Faus, J.I., Adiestrar la Libertad, (Santander: Sal Terre, 2007), 69.