Day of Prayer for World Conference (Community of Christ)
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Ordinary Time (Proper 1)
As I always told my kids back in the day, “Life’s not fair.” But that doesn’t mean there won’t be lessons learned along the way. For example, this week’s lectionary passage from the gospels is generally known as the Sermon on the Plain. Not as well known, certainly, as Jesus’ other big-time one, the Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matthew chapters 5-7. While they draw on some of the same material, the one from Luke has a lot going for it, too. Here’s the portion that appears in the lectionary this week:
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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 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 in 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. –Luke 6:17-26 NRSV
The Sermon on the Mount includes the nine Beatitudes (“Blessed are they….”). And, because the Bible is full of symbolism, we know that anytime someone, particularly the prophets, speaks from a mountain, the message is really coming directly from God. Not as well known, though, is the symbolism of speaking on a level place. Biblical writers throughout the Old Testament connected level places with a much different reality. Those are places tied to dead bodies, worship of idols, misery, suffering, mourning, and widespread hunger. In other words, this is the real world as human beings experience it.
Maybe that’s the big takeaway from Jesus’ sermon in Luke’s Gospel: The promised Kingdom of God is not just a future event, a time when all the earth will be at peace. It’s also a here-and-now emerging reality, at least for those with spiritual eyes and faithful lives. That’s why we find both blessings and woes in Luke’s account. The disciples of Jesus live in the midst of suffering and blessing, hunger and filled bellies, poverty and wealth. The challenge is to find the way of Christ somewhere in all that, and what we may think is a blessing is actually a “woe to you” moment.
How often have we all heard folks describe how well off they are, thanking God for all their blessings? It’s as if the presence of money, food, relationships, prestige, and honor iss evidence on its own of what God has given them. Watch just about any awards show or sporting event (the Grammys and the Super Bowl come to mind right now) and you can see what I mean. Best to remember, though, that in God’s coming Kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last. As such, can we ever be truly certain which camp we fall into?
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</em