The Beatitudes in Luke
Matthew and Luke both have versions of one of Jesus’ sermons – on the Mount in Matthew, on the Plain (level ground) in Luke. Matthew’s is much longer, though most of the material not in Luke’s version occurs elsewhere in his gospel. Matthew has 9 beatitudes, Luke has four, plus 4 ‘woes’.
Luke’s Sermon on the Plain takes us back to Jesus’ other sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, in chapter 4, which I spoke about the last time I preached here. There Jesus sets out his agenda for his mission to the people of Israel, based on his reading from the prophecy of Isaiah 61. Jesus laid out his agenda in that sermon, that he came to help the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed; and to proclaim God’s year of Jubilee, when in theory, if not so much in practice, debts were cancelled, slaves freed, a general reversal for those most oppressed in their society. That Israel’s God, our God, is a God of Justice, that God is justice, as much as a God of Love. They are related.
We are still be working on that. It’s what we take seriously in our work at Saint John’s: in the hive; in our commitment to racial justice, equality even; what we do for all those who come through the doors of the church with the burden of bereavement on their heart; or the pain of physical or mental illness; of the burden of being exclude. And, of course, for those who come to us to celebrate, their children, or their relationships.
Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount looks more ‘sociological’ – political, if you like, than Matthew’s more ‘spiritual’ emphasis. Luke seems to talk about the literal ‘poor’ and Matthew about the ‘spiritually poor’. But they are probably closer to each other than you might think. As I’ve said before, the ‘poor’ had become a metaphor by the time of Jesus (and Matthew and Luke). It was a cypher for the pious people of Israel, the true followers of Yahweh, of God.
This usage began in a literal way: Israel spent far too much of its time being oppressed by the larger, more powerful nations around it, the Egyptians in the south and the Syrians, the Assyrians, and later the Babylonians, in the north who gave them a bad time. The land of Israel was a land bridge between these nations, who would beat up the people of Judea as they passed through on their way to disputes with each other. So the kingdom of Judea (for Isaiah) was literally oppressed and poor because of this. Most particularly when they were finally defeated, the Temple destroyed, and many taken into exile to Babylon.
For Jesus in Luke’s sermon, it is the poor who are part of the kingdom of God. It is the hungry now who will be filled; those who weep now will laugh; those who are excluded now who will have their reward in heaven.
Luke’s emphasis on ‘now’ is probably because of his further distance from the Resurrection and the promise of Christ’s return. We’ve been waiting 2,000 years!
It is because the rich have already received their reward; those who are full who will know hunger, the laughing who will weep; and those who are spoken well of who need to realise that the false prophets in the OT who were liked, because they said what they thought people wanted to hear.
In another context, this reversal reminds me of what a reviewer says about Louise Bourgeois current exhibition at the Hayward gallery, that it’s not so much about what women’s bodies look like, but what it feels like to live in one.
But the sociological/political can’t be ignored all together. For Jesus, it wasn’t the powerful, important, rich, rulers of the people, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the lawyers – Scribes, not to mention the Herods, who mattered to God; they could take care of themselves, they hardly needed God. It was the ‘ordinary’ people of the land (Am ha’aretz) who mattered to God; because they know they need all the help they can get: God’s help; whereas the rich and powerful felt they were advantaged because they were ‘better’, because they deserved it; seemed not to need God. So, the pious and the literally ‘poor’ are the true followers of Yahweh, of God.
At the core of our faith is a sense of justice, a sense of the worth of every human being, whatever their status, in the sense that we all have an investment in the Common Good.
It is that sense that gives the lie to all forms of discrimination, whether on the grounds of wealth, education, gender, race, sexuality, disability, health – especially Mental health – whatever.
At breakfast yesterday Archdeacon Rosemarie gave us a passionate and (powerful, eloquent) explication of her personal commitment to the Common Good, of the value of everyone, and a facing up to our failings as a Church to be so committed. If you missed it, you missed something very beautiful. And a reminder that today is Racial Justice Sunday.
We are here today to celebrate Alaia, that she is a child of God, and precious not only to her family and friends, and indeed to all of us, but most of all, she is precious to God. As is every single one of us.
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 And he rolled up the scroll,
gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.
The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
21 Then he began to say to them,
‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
GOSPEL Luke 6.17–26
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place,
with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people
from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;
and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him,
for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you
on account of the Son of Man.
23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy,
for surely your reward is great in heaven;
for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 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.
26 Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’