Not a pie in the sky when you die – 6th Sunday in ordinary time – Luke 6:17,20-26
If Matthew had his “Sermon on the Mount” (5:1-7:29) Luke pens his “Sermon on the Plain.” In Luke’s account, this is Jesus’ second major policy statement of his ministry. Previously in Luke 4:14-30 he had proclaimed ‘good news to the poor’. Now to those ‘poor’ He gives them a set of attitudes.
Clearly Luke is setting an agenda for Jesus; this is the Messiah that has come for ‘all’ but who makes a preferential option for the poor. For most of us today the very word poor wraps its self around an outcome; namely material poverty which would make today’s reading very hard for an affluent person to swallow. The four beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel are followed by four ‘woes’ for those who are rich. How could Jesus who has come for ‘all’ now start excluding some?
It makes sense therefore for us to examine the text in order to understand what Jesus wanted to say. The focus of Jesus’ address in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel are the disciples (not to be confused exclusively with the apostles). These are those, like us, who follow Jesus freely and hence make a choice in accepting His calling and way of life. Despite the fact that most of us were born Christian (by convention) it is in the reception of the sacrament of confirmation that we accept Jesus freely as a disciple (by conviction). Remember that Jesus never held a gun to our head and forced us to be His disciples, His words were, “IF you wish to be my disciple”
In addressing the disciples and us, Jesus is asking us to make a choice in our way of life and is not declaring a particular social class blessed. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is reconstituting a ‘new Israel’. Remember that a few texts before this he picked 12 apostles. In picking 12 in number, Jesus is reconstituting he 12 tribes of Israel. Hence the kingdom that Jesus establishes is not exclusively ‘of the poor’ but one that freely choose ‘to be poor’.
It is hardly possible that Jesus, who in verse 20 is addressing “His disciples”, was addressing an affluent group of people. It would be cruel to tell a suffering people that poverty is a virtue, for poverty can never be a virtue especially if the consequence is starvation or fundamental deprivation. So, what was on Jesus’ mind when he spoke these words?
Through this Gospel, Luke intended to reach out to a Gentile Christians flock, many of whom perhaps were well to do. Jesus is not making a virtue out of physical poverty as much as He is calling His hearers to make a choice to live simply so that others may live. The awareness to such a call will encourage one to care for the hungry, share ones possessions, be sensitive to those who suffer or mourn and stand up for those excluded or targeted by society (see verse 20:22). Jesus hailed this free choice of discipleship with the word ‘makarios’ or blessed.
Scholars tell us that the word “blessed” or makarios in Greek is not some pie in the sky when you die but a ‘congratulation’ received by the disciple already here on earth. The blessings of God begin here on earth and are experienced in all its glory in the presence of the eternal King.
Fr Warner D’Souza