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.”
This is the part of Jesus’ sermon that probably rings most familiar to many of us. It’s called the “beatitudes” because of the constant refrain of blessing
But, as we saw yesterday, Luke’s account is a little different from the better know version Matthew offers. In these passages, for instance, Luke is a little more concrete, a little more focused on those who are in actual need. So while Matthew records Jesus as blessing those who are “poor in spirit” and “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” in Luke Jesus attends to the more immediate and physical dimension of our lives: blessed are you “who are poor” and “who are hungry now.”
Moreover, whereas Matthew has only blessings, Luke also adds “woes” or warnings to those who are rich and full and content and, apparently, have little regard for those who are doing without.
Why the differences? Some – particularly those who place a high value on the factual accuracy of the Bible – will argue that Jesus, like many a good preacher, is simply recycling material. He’s preaching the same sermon twice, adapting each to a different context. (Of course then you have a story that none of the Evangelists wrote.)
But I find it more helpful to remember that the gospels are always as much or more confession as they are history. That is, as we saw from the very beginning of Luke’s story, he is offering his “orderly account” in order to confirm his community in what they have learned about Jesus. And a big part of what Luke wants to teach his community about Jesus is that the poor matter. That God loves all people but has a special concern for those who are suffering – the hungry, the poor, those who mourn, those who are excluded. We saw that in Mary’s rebel song about feeding the hungry and turning away the rich and in Jesus’ inaugural address where he announced the year of the Lord’s favor to those who were captive, blind, lame, and more. Jesus, that is, has come for those in need – real physical, emotional, concrete need.
And Luke’s not about to soften that…not even to make us feel better.
Prayer: Dear God, make us mindful of those with less; more than that, use us to demonstrate your love and special concern for all those who suffer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.