A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory but may be true in fact. From the Greek words para for beyond and doxa for opinion, a paradox promotes critical thinking and deep introspection or reflections. Christian living is a life of paradoxes as we often hear Jesus our Lord telling us to lose our lives in order to gain it. St. Francis of Assisi knew it so well that in his prayer to be an instrument of peace, he rightly claimed that “it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.” We shall have a taste of some paradoxical teachings by Jesus Christ beginning today until the next two Sundays before we get into the Season of Lent as we listen from the account by St. Luke of the Lord’s “Sermon on the Plain”. For this Sunday, we hear the centerpiece of His sermon on that day, the Beatitudes.
And raising his eyes toward his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Lk.6:20-23).
Beatitudes are words of promise that have a strong link from the long line of tradition of Old Testament teachings like the one we heard from the first reading today from Jeremiah: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord” (Jer.17:7). Recall how last Sunday Jesus called His first four disciples led by Simon whom He had asked to be “fishers of men” (Luke chapter 5). As Jesus went around Galilee preaching and healing the sick, He gained some disciples or followers. In chapter six, St. Luke tells us Jesus departed to a mountain to pray for the night and upon coming down the following morning, He chose 12 men among His disciples whom He called apostles. This is now the setting of our gospel today when a vast crowd have followed Jesus, many of whom are poor people with some pagans from Tyre and Sidon who all wish to listen to Him about the word of God and to be healed from their sickness.
Speaking to His community of disciples that include us now, the Beatitudes by Jesus express the meaning of discipleship which is paradoxical because they run directly against the values of the world. For Jesus Christ, true blessedness and the way of happiness for us His disciples is being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. What a paradox indeed! Yet, we know deep in our hearts, in our love for Christ and for others especially to those dear to us, we are willing to live with these promise of trials and sufferings because it is the only way to follow Jesus who said “anyone who wishes to follow Him must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Him” (Lk.9:23). The paradox becomes deeper and more paradoxical that we are willing to go through all pains and trials for our love for Jesus and others because we trust in the Lord’s promise that “He will provide us with wisdom in arguing with our enemies… and most of all, not a hair on our head will be destroyed. By our perseverance we shall secure our lives” (Lk.21:14-19). We forge on with the Beatitudes because we are convinced in the words of Jesus about the complete reversal of fortunes when that “day” comes for our “rewards in heaven shall be great!” (Lk.6:23) And that “day” is the “now” when the scriptures are fulfilled in our hearing, when despite the many hardships we go through, we have that firm assurance within of meaning and joy in life because like St. Paul, we firmly believe in our resurrection in Jesus Christ. Every day we die in our sins, in our sufferings, we share in the passion and death of Jesus; but every day too, we experience rising to new life in Christ in this little deaths we go through in daily living.
It is along this line that we discover how the Beatitudes reveal to us the mystery of Jesus Christ Himself who calls us into communion with Him and in Him. When we examine the Beatitudes, we find Christ being referred to as the one who is poor, hungry, weeping, and hated for He is the first to be so blessed and filled with God when we recall His baptism at Jordan. In His life, Jesus showed us true blessedness as prophesied by Jeremiah, the one “who trusts and hopes in the Lord… like a tree planted beside waters that despite drought, it shows no stress and still bears fruit” (Jer.18:8). Without doubt, Jesus was the first to go through all the sufferings and pains of the Beatitudes and the first to resurrect from the dead as St. Paul insisted to the Corinthians. In following the Beatitudes, we become true fishers of men who catch nothing all night without Christ; but, with Jesus, despite our many losses in life, we continue to cast our nets into the deep so our lives may be fulfilled in Him always. Life is a mystery, filled with paradoxes that make it so wonderful and beautiful in God. A blessed week ahead to you! Amen. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan. Dome of the beautiful Church of the Beatitudes in Israel. Photo by the author, April 2017.