Introduction: Today’s readings, the first, Psalm and Gospel offer us some contrasts. In the First reading the contrast is between the cursed and the blest. The Psalm contrasts the happy man and the wicked. The Gospel contrasts the blessed and the woeful. For the next three Sundays we will be hearing Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. Today’s Gospel passage is an introduction; it will be followed by teaching on love and a warning against false teachers (in the form of a parable).
It would appear that the communities to whom Luke is writing are comprised of poor and rich, those who hunger, those who are full, those who weep and those who laugh. Luke is teaching all of them about discipleship, following of Jesus.
Jesus’ preaching, blessing the poor and hungry, would have attracted many of the slaves and lower class in the Roman World. But there were also people who were attracted who were not slaves but of the upper classes. These also were attracted to Jesus and his teaching as they received it.
In an agrarian society the fate of the poor is always to be ostracized socially. These are the ones spoken of in vs. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”
But for the rich who followed Jesus and became part of a community that also had poor members, they too would suffer the same kind of fate, ostracism, “hate, exclude, insult, denounce as evil…”
The words of challenge from Jesus are to all members of the community (they will be heard next Sunday) “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”
There was antagonism between the rich and the poor, between those who are filled now and those who are hungry, those who laugh now and those who are weeping now, those spoken of well now, those hated now. The people of Jesus time believed in “limited goods”. There was only so much to go around. If one person had more, I had less. The rich were seen as having power, the capacity to take from someone weaker. Being rich was synonymous with being greedy. To be poor was to be unable to defend what was yours. It meant falling below the status at which one was born. It was to be defenseless, without recourse.
Within the community, the poor (in Luke’s community the slaves and the lower classes) must love the rich, do good to them, bless them, pray for them. The rich must love the poor, the hungry, the slaves and lower classes, do good to them, bless them, pray for them. Then together both the rich and the poor must treat those from outside their community (those who mistreat them, their enemies) with love, prayer and forgiveness.
This is perhaps the most difficult teaching of Jesus. It is a total reversal of values.
Poverty is not, for Jesus, a good thing. Poverty, being poor usually means, being hungry, without necessary food or shelter or clothes or work. It means lack of medical care, not having good water and sewerage. These are bad things. In what does the blessedness of the poor consist? First it would seem that God and Jesus have a special love for the poor, a preferential option for the poor. Secondly, many of the poor have an awareness of their dependence upon God. To be poor means to be weak in relation to my neighbor, to be rich means to be strong in relation to my neighbor.
Jesus words have meaning for both rich and poor. For us, we must ask, in what does my happiness consist, Money, winning the lottery, prestige, power, to be well spoken of, etc?
Luke is clear in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles: those who have should share their possessions. The leaders of the community should not only pay attention to the powerful, the rich. They must imitate Jesus in his concern for the poor and the fringe or outcast people of the society.
Who do I think of when I say “rich”? Who do I think of when I say, “Poor”? What is Jesus teaching me in the Gospel Words this Sunday?
P.S. There is some interesting study and writing being done in our time, that Jesus may have been driven to be an itinerant artisan. Could his family have lost their plot of land due to death (St. Joseph), bad crops, or taxes both political and religious? Could this have happened to the people in Nazareth besides Jesus’ family? If so what he did as a carpenter then might have made him go on the road to find work and possibly do more than just carpentry.
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