6th Week Ordinary Time, Febuary 2-17-2019
Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1: 1-6; 1 Corthinthians 15: 12, 16-20; Luke 6: 17, 20-20
Jeremiah was a prophet in the early 500’s BC. Even before that, the beatitude was a standard format of Jewish teachers and prophets. Today we read beatitudes from both Jeremiah and Psalm 1, which compare the person who delights in God to the wicked. They say what is wise or foolish, in vivid and concrete terms.
Jeremiah says those who are blessed (happy) trust and hope in God. They are like a tree beside the water. This is a symbol used in our Psalm and throughout the Old Testament. Despite the heat and drought, the tree does not go into survival mode, because the water is enough to give it strength to flourish as well as support others with food. This describes people who flourish, do good works (fruit), and who have connected to sources of support, encouragement, and strength. The beatitudes describe the lives of Godly people vs. those who live only for themselves.
St Paul picks up the theme of the difference of those who love God and those who don’t believe. In our reading today, Paul is addressing questions about the truth of the resurrection of Christ. He says if all we have is this life on earth, we are the most pitiable people of all- more pitiable than a barren bush in salty soil. But, Christ is alive, the first to be raised from the dead, and we will follow him. Paul would say that we are the tree and Christ is the water, always there beside us.
But now, we get to the fun part, the Gospel. Jesus went to the mountain to pray, and spent the entire night in prayer. In the morning, he calls his followers around him and selects 12 to be the apostles. But the Word was out, he had been spotted, and a very large crowd, “a great multitude,” Luke says, had gathered on the plain below the mountain, people from Judea, Jerusalem, the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They came to see him for themselves, to touch him in hopes of healing, and to hear him teach.
This is not the way Matthew described the scene. Matthew had Christ high on the hill, to remind us of Moses. Luke describes Jesus as down with the crowd, accessible, touchable. The two Gospels even quote Jesus differently. Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” It takes on a more spiritual, theological tone, loftier, if you will.
Luke writes, “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.” It is more literal, more concrete, more about life status, circumstances, the trials and demands of living, more “down to earth”.
Which one is right? They both are. They both have a message for us. There is no reason to try to fit them in the same box. That is one gift of having four different Gospels. Each writer tells the story differently to meet the needs of different groups and situations in different places and times. They all perfectly agree that Christ came to teach us how to live, to love God and one another, to forgive our sins; Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.
So, what is Luke’s message? One of my favorite homilists, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, describes beatitudes as, “short, two-part blessings.” Like our Psalm says: “Blessed is one who delights in the law of the Lord, whatever he does, prospers.” But Jesus, like Jesus so often does, changes it up. He blesses the poor, the hungry, and the people on the fringe!
In that day, being obese was a blessing, making it obvious to everyone that you had more than enough food. Being wealthy was considered a blessing by the Lord. Jesus seems to reverse these. Being a target for insults- well, that hasn’t changed so much, then & now, it still means you take your faith seriously, you fail to “go with the flow,” or that you don’t lower your morals to reflect whatever you see on stage, screen and advertisement.
At any rate, when the people heard Jesus’ beatitudes, they were stunned! aghast! Well, the rich, the well-fed and the popular were stunned. They had become accustomed to rewards and honors, to having more than enough, considered it their due. It’s an easy trap to fall into when you have no regular, personal interface with the poor. Blaming the poor and hungry for their own plight was an easy way to stifle any guilt they might feel. They had set aside anything in their scriptures about loving neighbors. But now they must consider that they were spending their due of surplus and opulence, they were wasting their lives without thought to the future, and their “goodness” was as false as the false prophets. They have been found out and much too soon will experience emptiness and grief. When you are on top, there is no where to go but down. Fame, food, fortune, they are all fleeting.
But what you thought about Jesus’ beatitudes was different, depending who you were. Righteous or not, most people work their whole lives hoping to achieve a pleasant life, with plenty, with a sense of pride. If you were poor, hungry, and insulted, then Jesus brought a startling surprise. Jesus knew your worth. Jesus was saying he understood if you felt like life was a terrible economic and social “jail.” BUT it was not your fault. The cell door is open. You will be an insider in God’s kingdom, you will laugh and eat, you will be honored and rewarded; you will rejoice and leap for joy. Things will not forever remain as they are.
Jesus routinely gave clear commands. When he told us to love a Samaritan whom we had never met before, and pay for his needs out of our own pockets as quickly as we would for the guy next door that we really like, clearly he was giving us advice, even directing us to act. Jesus here is not even offering any judgment on our lack of social justice. He is not asking us to do anything. He’s simply offering a mirror to look into, to recognize if our feet are on the ground and our values are realistic. Jesus in fact, offers a blessing to us all, at the bottom of the social scale or at the top. No one stays at the top forever. In an hour, every material thing you own can be gone in a fire, your reputation can be smeared, your spouse can clear out the bank accounts and disappear. It is indeed a blessing to be taught not to become too dependent on your social status or your “stuff”.
On the other hand, it is also a blessing to believe that you have value, a value which remains constant if you are in rags or a designer ball gown with a diamond tiara. It is worth getting up again tomorrow and doing your best, for tomorrow is always a new day when you can make a difference. I believe that hope does, in fact, spring eternal, and that there are greater rewards in life than having filet mignon and champagne for dinner. Some people find more joy in sitting vigil with a dying person or teaching a child to read and eating peanut butter out of the jar.
We are not fully in charge of much of anything, but, as Rev. Taylor concluded, “Blessed are you who loose(n ) your grip on the way things are, for God shall lead you in the way things shall be.” I agree, and I think St. Luke also was telling us to relax our grip on things a little and seek to God a little harder.