The Beatitudes are the beginning of Jesus’ first training session with his newly chosen disciples. In Matthew’s Gospel it is called the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus was said to have been standing on a slight hill (and maybe Matthew wanted to evoke Moses bringing the Commandments down Mount Sinai). Luke, whose version we read this year, sets this occasion on a plain, on level ground. That would be consistent with his emphasis on the equalizing, leveling properties of the Realm of God.
And this great leveling, it appears, is outside of human time. For each condition that Jesus mentions, a future reversal is promised. And similarly, a corresponding “woe” is given, with the sad news that if you’re receiving goodies now, you’ll have none later. (Trick or treat, anyone?)
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“… 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.
As one who is rich, too well fed and fond of laughing, this does not strike me as good news. I remember why I avoid this passage; it's hard to find grace in it. As I wrestle with what feels like a rigid either/or set-up, I remember that no one passage of the bible contains the whole revelation of God’s goodness. I am comforted that Jesus himself was sometimes hungry, sometimes fed, sometimes mourning and sometimes rejoicing. And he was always blessed.
And I remember that when we step into the realm of God we are in some senses outside of time – the now has an eternal dimension. And as we share our wealth, our food and our cheer with those who lack them, we find ourselves growing a community in which all have enough.
That is what Jesus was pointing to. One day we will know that in full; now we can participate in bringing it into being in this realm, by the power of God's Spirit at work in us.