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.
THE GOSPEL of our Lord.
So, we might notice a few things about this passage. Most notably, it’s similar to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes, from the 5th chapter of Matthew. But there are several differences.
The Lukan version is known as the Sermon on the Plain. And just before this, Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray overnight, and in the morning, called his disciples to him, and from them, chose the twelve apostles.
Then Jesus went down the mountain with them – a great crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia, which was further north than Galilee, which was north of Samaria, which was populated by non-Jews…..my point here is that the multitude of people represented many differences beyond a rather spread-out geography.
There would have been linguistic differences, for example, Galileans spoke a unique form of Aramaic, whose dropped or distorted consonants were the butt of Judean humor.
Racially, the population of the area formerly known as the northern kingdom had been mixed since the Assyrian conquest in the 8th century BC.
And culturally, Judeans thought of their northern cousins as country bumpkins due to their lack of Jewish sophistication and their proximity to Hellenistic settlements. How could they live so close to those pagans and not be tainted?
The Judeans thought they were the only ones practicing pure Judaism and properly following the ritual observances. The only ones doing it “right.”
Indeed, it was a mixed crowd that Jesus stood amongst on that level place. In fact, the word LEVEL, in the Greek, was understood as the lowest - A place of disgrace, suffering, idolatry, mourning, misery, annihilation and death. Yet Jesus went down to them.
We might wonder how that looked. A massive crowd, varying by race, culture, dialects, geopolitical histories, and religious practices all reaching toward Jesus to experience the power of his healing presence, in a place no one would want to be. But people clambered to be near Jesus, no matter where or who was there.
And all in the crowd faced Jesus, all tried to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Despite their status in the community, or wealth, or religion, or sexual or gender identification, nationality or immigration status, or……….talk about inclusion!
Now, let’s consider how we might feel in that place. Standing side by side and seeking the same thing as all the people around us. People we’ve surmised to be “less than” or even “more than” ourselves, based on implicit biases making some people acceptable to be looked down on, and others to be gazed up at, perhaps even in shame for our own lack of achievement, or losses, or just plain misery.
Yet Jesus is there. Savior of all. Jesus comes down to our level – into the deepest valleys of our lives – to comfort, to heal, to walk with us and to bless us.
Incidentally, Makarios, the Greek for blessed, means satisfied, unburdened, at peace.
And “woe” does not mean condemned. The Greek, OY, is a call to repentance, to change one’s behavior, to lament. It’s a warning to turn around.
Luke’s Jesus is turning human expectations, traditions, and ideologies upside down, as he stands in radical solidarity with all people. In solidarity rather than judgement.
We’re included in that solidarity! Jesus sees each of us as beloved, regardless of how others might see us. In Christ, we are free to be unapologetically who God created us to be! Each of us wonderfully made and gifted by the Holy Spirit, so we can let go of all the burdens of how others might view us.
ALSO, We are called to imitate Christ, to seek out those places where people are hurting, lonely, ostracized, marginalized or criticized for being “other.” And as we’ve learned, Jesus had no problem with “otherness.”
To quote Richard Rohr, “We need to look at Jesus until we can see the world with his eyes. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all-inclusive worldview is made available to us….and, the point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else.”
In today’s context, we’re faced with so much division! Where do we experience the radical solidarity and inclusion of Jesus? Even the church shows drastic variance across denominations. Certainly, every congregation holds people of opposing opinions.
Jim Wallis, in his book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, discusses the losses we’ve experienced as the gaps in our society have widened – loss of civility, integrity, the ability to really listen to each other, loss of respectful public dialogue.
Too often, people cling to ideologies that are not helpful. Attitudes formed by a narrow worldview that excludes and diminishes others.
How are we supposed to change the polarized world we live in?
Wallis described one attempt made by a wide array of pastors and church leaders who began talking, praying, and discerning together how people of faith could help create safe, civil and even sacred spaces for truthful and respectful public discourse.
The result of that discernment was, A Covenant for Civility: Come, Let Us Reason Together, a scriptural based covenant which was ultimately signed by thousands of clergy and lay people from across denominations and the nation.
Excerpts from it read, “…The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” From Ephesians 4:31-32.
Seven biblical based commitments – summarized, but I have copies of the full document if you’d like to see it in detail – commitments to:
Listen deeply, speak respectfully, disagree with humility, mindful of our words, mindful of how we treat each other, commit to prayer for political leaders, and for one another.
Deacon Kirsten Kessel
February 17, 2019