Today we are continuing our weekly devotional series by looking at the passage from Luke’s gospel in chapter 6, verses 20-26, These are traditionally referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain where he issues a series of blessings and woes.
This passage is similar to what we see in Matthew 5, called the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
Our Melbourne chapter has spent this year reflecting on the Beatitudes as part of our monthly bible study series.
The difference here in Luke’s version is that Jesus declares both blessings and woes.
He promises relief to some groups, to those people who travel rough roads through life. To others who find their life rather cruzy or easy, he says, “Look out!”
There is no easy way around this, Jesus divides people into 2 groups, there is no middle ground. We see this in Matt 25, when he speaks about the sheeps and the goats.
Like today’s passage, Jesus’ motivation comes from a foundation of love, care and compassion to the last, the least and the lost. We call this grace.
We see with Jesus, and throughout history, that caring for the poor, will often ask questions of those in power. Why are there poor? Who benefits from this? Whose interests are kept by keeping the status quo? Who are the winners and losers?
These questions are often uncomfortable for those in power, and we see this with Jesus who constantly comes into conflict with the religious leaders of the day because of this.
In fact we have over 20 instances in the gospels of Jesus coming into conflict with the religious authorities. Almost all of these are due to clashes because of Jesus’ actions of love in caring for the last, the least and the lost, and the authorities legalistic approach to not wanting to see the boat rocked.
One of my heroes of our faith is the late Archbishop of Brazil, Dom Helder Camara, who once said “When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist”
Some call this the work of justice, and that word seems to frighten people. It was Cornel West who once said that “Justice is what love looks like out in public”. And that seems to be what Jesus is calling us to.
Before he is born, Luke in chapter 1 records Mary’s song, where Mary, pregnant from the Holy Spirit, declares that:
We see in chapter 4 that Jesus begins his public ministry with his first sermon. After he had read from Isaiah, he declared that he had been anointed like the prophets before him for specific purposes: to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to prisoners; to cause the blind to see; and to proclaim a “jubilee year,” a year of favor before God.
In Luke’s writings of Jesus, Jesus both taught this lived it out. They are part of his core values, and I would add are meant to be for those who say they are his followers today.
These blessings and woes speak of the great reversal, of the upside down kingdom in which Jesus came to inaugurate as the kingdom of God, or God’s reign, both now and in the future,
We are reminded of that again a little later when in Luke 11, Jesus prayed in his prayer, “They kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”
In doing so he subverts the normal way of doing things.
Because what he says does not make any sense for most of us in our world today. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the grieving and the despised? They are the forgotten ones at the bottom of the heap, that by and large society forgets about, and is scared of.
But for those who are on the margins, in Jesus day and today, this is good news, we see that Jesus preaches this and lives this out.
In Luke 9 We see he feeds the masses
In Luke 14 he commands us when we give a feast to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the last the least and the lost,
Over this past week, through our local organization that I head up, Foothills Community Care, we have been able to distribute and hand-deliver over 1200 meals to locals in need in our community in need of an extra hand up.
We are in stage 4 lockdown due to COVID 19, attempting to get our numbers down. This past weekend alone we delivered 650 meals in time for Father’s Day. These went to people often on their own at this time. 30 of these went to a local circus group, who have been stranded for the past 6 months, and have no power and no way to support themselves.
For us, this is in response to the love, compassion and teachings of Jesus that we see here today.
But here Jesus does not just stop at blessings for the despised, he then goes on to heap his woes on the comfortable and powerful.
These woes can be hard for us to understand today. Can I suggest that Jesus is inviting us to reassess our priorities? Where do we put our trust in? Do we trust in ourselves and in our own security?
He invites us to reorient our lives, our discipleship, around following him and his kingdom priorities, not those of looking out for ourselves.
Are we people marked by Jesus’ love, compassion and grace, who Jesus declares here are blessed? Or are we people unaffected or oblivious to the plight of those around us, living for ourselves and our own power bases, accruing our own financial nest egg at the expense of others around us, and claiming God’s blessings in the process?
These words today can be as uncomfortable for us to hear as they were for Jesus’ original crowd, because they challenge our faith, our priorities, our lifestyles and our allegiances.
I invite you to prayerfully read them over a few times this week and see what Jesus is saying to you through his word.
Through all of this, I am reminded again that, “Jesus came to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”
How are we attempting to follow him today?
Barro – Melbourne chapter, Australia