A God-Oriented Radical Existence

Luke 6:20-31(Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23)

“Blessed are the poor.” Really? Are you sure? Tevye, in Fiddler of the Roof, asks God a great question:

It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death. Oh, dear Lord. You made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either. So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune?

Here we have Luke’s version of the Beatitudes – the Sermon on the Plain – in contrast with Matthew’s version (5:3, 5, 9), the Sermon on the Mount. And in Luke’s version it is the poor, and not the poor in spirit, that are blessed. So too are those who are hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, and those ostracized because of their relationship with Jesus. Truly, they don’t sound blessed. What gives?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus directs attention towards a very particular set of people: The poor (1:50-53) in the Song of Mary; along with the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed (4:18-19) in the Synagogue Sermon. And, Jesus issues a warning to those who have an overabundance: the rich fool (12:16-21), the rich man who ignores Lazarus (16:19-31), and Zacchaeus (19:1-10). This is the context for the blessed/woe sermon in this week’s text. The poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the excluded have a special place in God’s heart, and a share in God’s kingdom. That is their blessedness, (literally, their “happy condition”). As one scholar puts it: “To know who Jesus is, we go where Jesus is – with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed.”

You’ll notice, also, that these words are directed not towards the crowd (as in Matthew) but towards the disciples. Jesus is describing to his disciples (and therefore, to the Church) the shape of the Christian life and mission. And it is our mission because it is in imitation of the mercy of God:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you (vs. 27-31).

Jesus’ sermon describes a God-orientated existence that is fundamentally a radical existence! Within these radical concepts are the foundational notions of a life of faith: love, do good, bless, pray (see above). What makes this teaching radical, is the object of our love, etc. – enemies, those who hate us, those who curse us, those who abuse us. Yet, it is these very aspects of who God is that are revealed on the cross of Christ: these are the people who killed Jesus; and the people he died for! That’s what makes the life of faith an imitation of God’s love and mercy.

The world looks down its collective nose at the ones whom God loves so much and so particularly. And, the world hears with horror who it is that is on the receiving end of the “woes” (the rich, those who are full, those whom laugh, those who are well-regarded). Perhaps that is why so many people campaign for the erection of more and more monuments containing the Ten Commandments, while no one agitates on behalf of monuments containing the Beatitudes.



Pastor Ken+