Jesus Meets Us Where We Are
This week’s Gospel text is Luke 6:17-26, sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. This stands in contrast to the longer Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. There is also a contrast in purpose. Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospel authors is always at pains to connect Jesus to the Hebrew scriptures and the authority of God as the Messiah. Hence the placement of Jesus on the Mount, paralleling Moses on Mount Sinai.
It is not a criticism of either Matthew or Luke, just a recognition that Luke has a different purpose. He is showing Jesus on a “level place” (verse 17). That is Jesus meeting us where we are. Jesus is on our level as fully human, walking among us. It is not that Luke is in any way short-shifting Jesus’ role as Messiah or the eternal promises he is offering humanity. Luke certainly highlights this in the birth story in Luke 2:11. It is just that here Luke chooses to focus on the Jesus who is with us.
What to Do in the Here and Now
In this teaching text, as in the longer Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is offering us an idea of what to do in the here and now as we wait in joyful hope of the next age. As always, for us, first comes belief, then the question, “how do we obey?”. Jesus does not leave us hanging, although Jesus knows that we know in our hearts how we are to behave. Accordingly, Jesus does not offer a codex of rules and regulations but rather a mindset of how we are to orient ourselves to the will of God.
Toward this end Jesus offers 4 blessings and 4 woes. Notably, the blessings do not mean a life free of pain and struggle. Verse 22 makes this clear “‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.’”. We are to faithfully struggle through the pains of this world, giving witness to God’s plan to carry us to the next. The other blessings are to be poor, hungry, and weepy. Also indicating that we are to struggle through as witness to God’s Good News.
The best take on the mentions of poverty, hunger and weeping are to view them as a duality. On the one hand, they refer to actual impoverished, miserable children of God who need help. In the more eternal perspective, they refer to those who follow Jesus. Those who hunger for God’s Grace, who weep for God’s mercy and who are indeed poor in spirit.
We should not merely spiritualize this, however. It is all too easy to do that and forget that there are indeed those who need help among us, often sitting next to us in church. So, with whatever we have in this world, we are to direct it at those who are in need. This leads us to the “woes” that Jesus offers.
The woes are for many disturbing, as they should be. To be disturbed is to contemplate and learn. It is disturbing to contemplate that verses 24-26 mean a simple reversal of fortune from the now to the next age. Certainly, if one does not repent (literally turn around) then one does not have a relationship with God, which simply continues for eternity.
This does not mean that there is no hope for those who have wealth. This means really that those who have wealth should use it to help those that need it. That is, we should put our wealth into the service of God as his earthly witnesses. This is consistent with other parts of scripture, especially Luke 18:25 “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”. The point being, that it is not impossible for the rich to get to heaven, just more difficult because we hold on to the things of this world so tightly. Jesus is asking us to trust him and to let go and use the resources we control to help others. What exactly this means for each of us requires an examination of our conscience as God informs it.
A Blessing to Be Poor?
One thing we should be cautious of here is the hoary idea that it is good to be materially poor. Too many have justified the status quo by interpreting passages like this as meaning God loves the poor, it must be better to be poor. Yeah, woe is me I’m rich! I think it nonsensical that God would ever want his children to live in abject, grinding poverty.
That is part of the task for those of us with resources, material, financial, and intellectual; to help create an environment whereby material wealth can be created that offers real relief to those in deep need. Readers of this blog know I have definite ideas about how to do this, that involves rocking apart the status quo. Suffice it to say, that many in good faith will find themselves with differing ideas on how to get this done. The point here is that we are to concern ourselves here and now with how to help the least of those among us.
The real blessing is to be one who follows Christ, even to the uncomfortable, disturbing place he leads us. This passage, like so many offers us an eternal and an earthly perspective, much as Jesus is both God and man. Ours is, as always to believe, then obey.
Praise Be to God