Posted on Feb 17, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Our Gospel text today is the beginning of Luke's version of Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." Like Matthew, it begins with beatitudes and ends with a parable about building a house on a sound foundation. Unlike Matthew, it’s much shorter, and takes place on a plain, not on a mountainside; we call it the “Sermon on the Plain.”
Now, as I have done the past couple of weeks, I think it is important to understand where we are in the story. As we heard last week, Jesus has just called his first disciples, Peter, James, and John, and following that, they headed into the cities to continue his ministry. What was that ministry? As we heard a few weeks ago, Jesus was to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, offer recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19). So, Luke tells us that with his new disciples Jesus now went into the cities, where he healed people with leprosy and those who could not walk and he proclaimed the forgiveness of sin. These actions, although well-received by those who were healed and were in great need, caused concern and outrage with those who held power and religious and civil authority. Luke tells us that the Pharisees and scribes began to follow him because they were concerned about not only what he was teaching, but by the company he was keeping. Not only had he called fishermen to follow him, but Luke tells us that he called a tax collector, Levi, to follow him and he began to eat and socialize with tax collectors and other less-desirable people. These religious leaders challenged him, and they began to note that his ways were not the ways that they followed. But Jesus continued on, and Luke says that at that time he went up the mountain to pray with his disciples, and while on the mountain with all the disciples that were following him he chose twelve of them to be to be his apostles, which brings us to our story today.
As they came down the mountain to a great crowd gathered from all over the region on the plain to be healed and to hear the good news that he was teaching, it was at this point that Jesus offers his teaching to the disciples that we call the beatitudes: “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, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, 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” (6:20-23).
These blessings are different from the “blessings” of the world. According to the world you are blessed if you are rich, not poor. You are blessed if you have plenty of food and resources, not if you need others to help you and give you handouts. According to the world, you are blessed if your life is good and it is filled with joy, not if you are filled with suffering. According to the world, you are blessed when people like you and serve you, not when the hate you and persecute you.
But Jesus didn’t end there; he then went on to offer curses for those who the world proclaimed were the blessed: “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” (6:24-26).”
What is the meaning of these beatitudes and why did Jesus share them? Well, the answer depends on the one hearing these words. If you are poor, sick, suffering, in need…, these words are words of promise and hope. If you fall into this category, Jesus is proclaiming that God is with you and God is at work redeeming you, but to receive that blessing you have a choice. Do I accept these blessings or do I seek the ways of this world?
If, on the other hand, you are part of the rich, the powerful, those who are filled with plenty and joy, you, also, have a choice! Will you choose blessing, or will you choose curse? Jesus took the time to proclaim these words, not to give us a beautiful list of sayings; no, these words are a call to action. These teachings tell us how we ought behave in order to fulfill Jesus' mission. Jesus offers these words immediately after he has formed his group of disciples and before he heads off to Jerusalem, where he will be killed, because without these lived practices there is no foundation for a non-violent community that is filled with justice, which will be the community that is in contrast to the rest of the world, which will be communities filled with violence and injustice. The church, that is those who follow Jesus, is to be that called community that ought to bind itself to the sick, the disabled, the poor, and the hungry. The church, that is you and me, exist to be a light to the world and to be a beacon that there is a better life being offered to us and we ought to live in the ways of the LORD.
In his book, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (pg. 250), Bruce Malina, suggested that that a slightly different way to read these beatitudes would be to replace the word “blessed” with “How honorable,” and the word “woe” with “How shameless…” as a way to help us see that these words are calls to live differently. In other words, “How honorable are those of you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…” or “How shameless are you who are rich, for you have chosen to receive all your reward already."
Today, we are offered a choice of how we will live our lives. These beatitudes are not an abstract way of living. No, Jesus offers us today very specific ways of “holy living.” That is, today we hear of a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor, but rather a continuous choice to deepen one's relationship with God and to then allow this relationship to guide all of one's actions in the world. Holiness, that is a way of living that is different from the world, requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives and this fundamental orientation toward God includes and sustains our relationship with each other. To put this in the language of Lent, which we will hear in just three weeks, the beatitudes are a call to repentance.
As those who are rich, who are filled, who know great joy, today we are being called to share our blessings, to stand with, walk with, and seek justice for those who are poor, who are suffering, who are in need of “healing.” Today we are called to act differently.
So how do we do this? Well, first we have to make a choice of how we want to live. Do we use our blessings for personal gain, or will we be a blessing to others? Then, once we live as Jesus calls us to live, then everything we do ought be done with God and God’s ways in mind. In other words, how and where we spend our money, for example. Will we continue to buy products because they are cheap even though those who manufacture the products are polluting the earth or using labor that cannot make a livable wage? Will we continue to use our wealth, and I don’t just mean financial, for personal gain, or will we begin to give of ourselves freely, with no strings attached, so that others might come to know the blessings we have. Will we continue to build walls around our communities so that we don’t have to live among those who we see as different or dangerous, or will we tear down the walls we have built and welcome all to our table as our LORD did? Will we continue to speak words that others in power want us to say or will we speak words of truth and justice even though we will be persecuted or rejected for it?
Today we are being invited to live differently. The choices are ours to make! Amen.