This week’s episode features Dr. Joel Snider and focuses on Matthew 5:1-12.
A few years ago I was researching the Beatitudes for a sermon when I came across a quote by St. Francis de Sales who lived in the early 1600s. After repeating the first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), he adds this commentary: “Cursed then, are the rich in spirit for the misery of hell is their portion.” By reversing the saying of Jesus, he shed new light on the original Beatitude. Here’s the way I understand his statement. People living in poverty always know what they need. They need to eat, they need a roof over their heads, they need clothing. They simply need someone to help. In the same way, the poor in spirit recognize they need help. They depend on God and the they find themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The rich, however, are self sufficient. Only the rich are described as “self-made.” They don’t have to ask for a thing and depend on no one. Thus, the rich in spirit never ask for anything related to their spirits because they’re so sure they already have what they need. They never depend on anyone else and, as a result, their portion is to be alone. While Scripture often refers to Hell as a place of burning, it also refers to it as a place of loneliness and outer darkness where we are by ourselves (see Matthew 22:13 and Jude 13 for two references). Following De Sales logic, the poor in spirit ask God for help and get the kingdom of heaven. Needing nothing for their souls, the rich in spirit ask for nothing of anyone and get to be by themselves. Hell is their portion. Only those who have never been lonely could miss what a curse loneliness is.
De Sales’ statement started me thinking about turning around all the Beatitudes. Can we see the truth of what is blessed by seeing what is cursed? This sermon examines what truly blesses, by thinking about what surely curses.