The Gospel reading for today is more challenging and terrifying than many others in the Bible. Jesus turns our entire way of thinking upside down. The Beatitudes would have had the same effect at the time as they do today, which is to strike at the heart of our humanness and our fears. The Beatitudes could be called “radical” in any age. They contradict what society teaches.
I live and work in South Sudan as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. This newest of nations is also one of the most depressed, impoverished, violent, and corrupt countries in the world. As I move among the people of South Sudan, I am constantly reminded of the Beatitudes. Somehow, these lovely people find strength and spirit to continue. They persevere amidst incredible difficulties. Their faith remains solid.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To be poor is to be humble, to recognize your need for God. The poor of South Sudan have their only hope in God. Their prayers are deep and heartfelt. They yearn for the day when Peace will reign. We pray together to strengthen each other’s faith.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Almost every person I talk to has a tragic story to tell. Every family has experienced the loss of a loved one or the pain of suffering. I meet so many people who share and many times it drives me to tears. I try to bring comfort through my presence. I stand in awe of their faith as they continue to rely unfailingly on God.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The humble of this country teach me patience and strength. They continue to fight for justice in a non-violent way. Their sacrifices are immense. They submit to the Will of God and persevere against all odds in their belief in a better world. God will reward them.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
In a country where humanitarian workers are killed, human rights workers are beaten, journalists are disappeared, and simple, good people are oppressed, the struggle continues. When someone hungers and thirsts, they can think of nothing else but food and liquid. A time will come when the South Sudanese shall be satisfied with justice and righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
The violent ones receive most of the attention. What I have found is that good people overwhelmingly outnumber the evil ones. I have met so many who are quietly working toward reconciliation and peace. They do the work of Jesus without flourish or fanfare. They trust God is listening and helping them.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Although one finds self-seeking motives by many in South Sudan, there are even more who are generous beyond belief. Their witness mirrors that of Jesus who sacrificed his own life for the redemption and salvation of mankind. These pure souls of South Sudan will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
So many people have spent so much time attempting to bring reconciliation and justice to this violent nation. They are the true peace makers promoting non-violence in what seems to be a losing effort. Yet, they are inspired to double their efforts and with great patience they continue. Peacemakers foster peace between God and man.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Every day we read of good people being harassed by government leaders or rebellious factions. It seems evil has the upper hand. But the Kingdom of God is different. I meet people who are focused on heaven above and fearlessly speak out fearlessly against injustice and persecutions. They are truly blessed for their witness.
Blessed are you when men 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 men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It is difficult to rejoice when one is feeling pain. Yet we are called to be glad when reviled. I met a woman who had lost many of her family members to civil conflicts and starvation. Yet, she exuded happiness and contentment that these family members were now in heaven.
The Beatitudes are my moral compass. When I realize them in the South Sudanese people I encounter, I am moved to tears. I have been graced to experience these words in living reality every day through the actions and deeds of the South Sudanese people who struggle to live a life worthy of Jesus and eternal redemption.
Gabe Hurrish is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in South Sudan.
Photo of the Christmas celebration at Kuron Peace Village in South Sudan, December 2022, courtesy of Gabe Hurrish/MLKM.