Psalm 1 and Luke 6:17-26
Theme: On the level
Gran, Joy’s Mum, was fond of quoting the little saying; “Good friends are more precious than fine gold, but a little bit of fine gold is very nice.” It sounds a little like the observation of Mae West, “I’ve been poor, and I’ve been rich. Believe me. Rich is better.”
While we are on little sayings, my mother used to quote to her three sons, “Save a match and buy a farm.” And “Look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.” Now most of us know that what Gran, Mae West and Mum were all saying is that without reasonable financial resources life is going to be difficult.
All of this seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ teaching for today – which is Luke’s version of Jesus “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew – where Jesus seems to be saying something along the lines of:
Blessings on the poor
And the persecuted.
Woe for the rich
The well fed
And the popular.
Luke has Jesus on the level (the Plain), rather than on the Mount, as Matthew does, when he preached what we know as the Sermon the Mount. Jesus may have preached the Beatitudes as being a desirable way to live but in reality, people today do not view poverty and powerlessness as being desirable states. Most of our working life and investments are designed to protect us, shield us, secure us from poverty and powerlessness.
It was no different in Jesus’ time when he spoke these words we refer to as the “Beatitudes,” or the “Blessed Ares”. Even then people asked what could be good news about poverty, hunger or being hated.
Matthew, in his Gospel, presents a list of nine beatitudes but records no balancing negatives. But if you look at Luke’s recording of the Beatitudes you will note that there are four positives and four negatives –
Blessed are the poor
Blessed are the hungry
Blessed are the weeping
Blessed are the hated
But woe to the rich
Woe to the full
Woe to the Laughing
Woe to the respected.
In both Hebrew and Greek there are two words for blessed. The word in Greek is eulogeo which is asking a blessing – such as on the sick. This word doesn’t appear in the beatitudes.
The other word is makarios which means “not part of a wish and not to invoke a blessing. Rather the word recognises an existing state of happiness. That is the word affirms a quality of spirituality that is already present.” In English we represent this by saying, “Anne is a bless-ed person.”
It is the second of these words makarios that is used in the Beatitudes.
We could represent this by saying, “Blessed is David because he knows Joy loves him.”
In reality this teaching of Jesus is exciting unsettling stuff. In reality we would like to ignore it and simply say “What a load of old codswallop. Jesus got it wrong that time.” But we can’t, for his teaching doesn’t leave us alone and we keep coming back to ask “Why is it that Jesus has turned the values of the world upside down and claimed people are happier and the world works better when we hold these values?” “Why is it that Jesus is saying, “God’s blessings on the nobodies of this world? Woes on the arrogant and self satisfied who think they have it all”
“What going on here?” is our question. What is real? Is this teaching of Jesus for real?
Time after time, Jesus and his followers were told to “Get real.” In essence that is what many politicians and business leaders tell the church still today. “Get real. You don’t think the world really works that way do you?” It'[s a bit like the person who says, “Well, I think prayer is fine, but sometimes you just have to get real.” Or “You religious people need to get off your pie in the sky stuff and face facts.”
All of that begs the question, “What is reality?”
How do we see the world? Who gets to name the true facts about the way things really are?
We can only live in the world that we see. So, debates about what’s what in the world, about what is fact, what is real, tend to be arguments around the basic question, “Well, what do you see?” What’s going on? Who is in charge? Why are we here? Where are we heading? Get the picture? In other words “Who sets the agenda? Who calls the tune?”
In our Gospel today Jesus comes down on a level place (Luke 6:17). Now most of us think that we’ve heard this sermon in Matthew, on a mountain, but this one in Luke is a little different. You will note that, at least in the beginning of the sermon, Jesus doesn’t tell us what we are to do. Many people think that that is the purpose of a sermon, “To tell them what to do and how to think. How to lead a better life.” But this sermon of Jesus’ is about people who are ‘blessed’ and people who are ‘cursed.’ Jesus doesn’t tell people what they are to do to be blessed; rather, he announces that certain people are blessed, others are cursed. Get the message? This is not a sermon about us and our way of viewing the world – who is in and who is out! What we perceive to be real! It is a sermon about God and God’s nature.
God is the merciful one who is ‘kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (v35). Perhaps you thought if God is good, kind, compassionate, understanding and loving then that means God punishes the wicked and socks it to the ungrateful. Perhaps you thought that even though people didn’t get their comeuppance in this world, then God would make sure they got it in the next.
What is real? How do things really work?
Jesus is actually telling us that it is easy to be kind to people who are grateful for the kindness we show them. It is easy to do nice things for good people. It is easy when a reward is involved. But, says Jesus, the reality is that God is kind and good to the bad and the ungrateful.
In a few Sundays we will read a story which Jesus told concerning a Prodigal son. In this story Jesus introduces us to an incredibly kind and gracious father. When the older brother wants to know why in the world his father is throwing a huge homecoming party for the returning, wayward younger brother, the father replies, “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
“Has the father been duped,” we ask. The real facts are that the younger brother was not dead – he was actually out on a long-term binge in the company of loose woman-all done on his father’s hard-earned cash. Nor was he ‘lost.’ He didn’t forget the way home when he needed a little comfort and the wine and women had run out. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Dad is throwing a huge party.
But, says Jesus, that is the kind of Dad God is to each one of us. God’s values, God’s way of viewing the world and what is real or of value are more than a little different to ours. “Let’s see things from God’s perspective,” says Jesus.
We know and proclaim that everyone (not just some) are of value to God. We know that our bodies are the ‘dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.’
We know that there is something of God in each one us.
And so Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor – the people whom those with wealth and power tend to overlook, disregard, despise and consider to be failures who should get their act together.
Blessed are the hungry – the people in society who don’t get off their butts and do a little work but sit expecting handouts.
Blessed are those who weep – the whingers and complainers who think a tear or two will soften the hearts of others and get them an easy meal. You know, those who act like the world owes them a living.
I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty with what Jesus is saying. A little personal responsibility and accountability seems needed here is what I want to say. “Hey Lord, you can’t always blame others for the circumstances you find yourself in. You’ve got to say, “What can I do?”
But then Jesus goes on to talk to people like me. I have difficulty with that also. Which brings us back to “What is real and how do we see the world.”
You know, I can’t answer that for you. Frustrating isn’t it, especially if you have come along here to be told how to live your life faithfully in tune with God. Comforting also, though, when you realise that Jesus finished this little sermon by telling his listeners who had the same questions on their minds as we have on ours, “Treat others just as you want to be treated.” Now that’s for real.
To God be the glory. Amen