LIVING THE LECTIONARY 6

Luke 6:17-26
6:17 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.

6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 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.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “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.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Luke’s version of the so-called beatitudes is different from Matthew’s which is better known. Basically, in Luke, the blessings are for disciples, and there are only four categories of them: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted. In Matthew the blessings are for all who fit the categories. We can either say that Matthew spiritualised the categories of those blessed or that Luke materialised them. Matthew for example has “”the poor in spirit” while Luke has “you poor.” The temptation is to think, as did 19th century scholars, that there was a document containing sayings of Jesus, possessed by the two writers who then edited it in their gospels. I think this is unlikely, and that many other solutions are possible. Both writers imagine a “kingdom of God” which has material and spiritual dimensions. Luke includes a spiritual dimension here, by emphasising that Jesus was talking to committed disciples.

He is nevertheless concerned to depict Jesus as recognising the needs of the poor. The word used means “destitute”, “without resource“, as would have been the case with his companions in ministry. The coming of the kingdom is dependent on people who accept poverty for its sake, and not only poverty but hunger, sorrow and defamation. The kingdom will be “good fortune” for them, because it will supply all they have lacked.

It is notable that in Luke’s second volume, the book of The Acts, he shows the first Christian community as sharing all their resources with each other. Here indeed is God’s kingdom.

Luke saw the church as continuing the ministry of Jesus, as a sign of the viability of God’s kingdom in the world, a shared life rather than an impossible ideal. He saw this ministry as prophetic, pointing to what God will create. The blessings in Luke are not for societal groups of people but for people committed to God’s justice. In my sermon on this text I mentioned a residential care giver, doing the most important job in society for a minimum wage, out of commitment to needy people.

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