A reflection on Luke 6:17-26 for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, February 13, 2022.
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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘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 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.
‘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.
Luke 6:17-26 (NRSVA)
Luke’s parallel to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is the Sermon on the Plain – a ‘level place’.
Both are preceded by summaries of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry that attracted significant crowds. Luke, concerned for the gentile mission, reminds us that Jesus drew people from beyond Israel. ‘Tyre and Sidon’ lie beyond Jewish borders.
Both Luke and Matthew also have Jesus turning from these vast gatherings to the ‘disciples’ and opening his teaching of them with the beatitudes – or blessings.
Unlike Matthew, Luke sets his four blessings out in contrast to four ‘woes’ – acting as a reinforcement of the surprising and unexpected nature of these descriptions of the ‘kingdom of God’.
The first beatitude points to a current reality: ‘..yours is the kingdom of God…’ The following two describe a movement from ‘…you who are…’ to ‘…you will be…’. The poor are blessed for the Kingdom is theirs. As such, the time will come when they will be fully satisfied and deeply joyful.
Luke is strikingly bald in his assessment of the ‘poor’. Matthew, perhaps hitting a more conciliatory tone, refers to the ‘poor in spirit’. The poor, however, are a key part of the mission Luke describes. They are central – and, here, the first to be acknowledged as ‘blessed’ and in possession of the ‘kingdom’.
Confronting. Surprising. Upside-down.
Perhaps it is this disorientating aspect of this initial description of the kingdom that leads Jesus to his final beatitude. People will ‘hate’, ‘exclude’, ‘revile’, and ‘defame’ those with allegiance to this kingdom – as has happened before – to the ‘prophets’.
Adherents to Jesus’ way will be – understandably – misunderstood.
As we have already suggested, Jesus ‘woes’ mirror, contrast, and emphasise these blessings – woe to the ‘rich’, ‘full’, and ‘laughing’. Once again there is movement and direction: ‘…you who are…’ to ‘…you will…’. Many will affirm this well-worn path as they did the ‘false prophets’.
Perhaps we can summarise: As the kingdom comes near – change is coming.
And change is always resisted by those who have a stake driven deep in contemporary ground. Perhaps just as often, it is embraced by those who have nothing to loose.
How do you initially respond to these ‘blessings’? Do the concern of delight you?
In what sense are these blessings and woes both good and bad news? In what sense are they good news for everyone?