THE BEGINNING OF THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN
(A biblical reflection on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year C], 17 February 2019)
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:17,20-26
First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalms: Psalm 1:1-4,6; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20
The Scripture Text
And 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 and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases.
And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out Your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:17,20-26)
TToday’s Gospel contains part of Luke’s account of what we usually call the Sermon on the Mount. However, because it does not take place on the side of a mountain but on a level stretch of land, biblical scholars often call Luke’s version of this important teaching the Sermon on the Plain.
The sermon begins with Luke’s own narrative of the beatitudes, a variation of those found in Matthew. While Matthew stresses a person’s spiritual shape (e.g., the poor in spirit and those who hunger for holiness), Luke is more concerned with one’s physical condition (e.g. those who are poor and hungry). Unlike Matthew, who gives us eight beatitudes, Luke mentions only four but adds four woes (e.g., “But woe to you rich …”).
Despite these differences, both versions of Jesus’ sermon have the same purpose. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day believed the only way to be holy was to follow both the laws in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the 613 laws of the oral traditions (interpretations of the Torah laws). Following all these laws was a heavy burden for poorer Jews who had little time to study them because they had to work many hours a day just to provide for their families. Since an education and knowledge of the laws was a luxury only the rich enjoyed, only the rich could be holy.
The rich believed their comfortable lifestyle was proof God was pleased with them and that God would bless them with places of honor in His Kingdom. They believed the poor, on the other hand, experienced many hardships because they were sinners.
In both Luke and Matthew, Jesus shocks His audience by disagreeing with this popular line of thinking. Instead of praising the rich for being holy, Jesus identifies the poor, the hungry, and the persecuted as the ones who will get the places of honor in God’s Kingdom. This bias towards the lowly is just one reason why Jesus’ teachings were so popular with the ordinary people and why the rich and powerful despised them.
We can define “holiness” as “a measure of a person’s relationship with God.” Therefore, anyone who has such a relationship is holy. Now let us ask ourselves: “How holy am I and what am I doing to grow in holiness?
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 280-281.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to imitate You in generosity, mercy, and concern for others. We want to share in Your joy, and blessings as we build the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Jakarta, 15 February 2019
A Christian Pilgrim