This And Then That
New Revised Standard Version
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. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
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. 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.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
I imagine many of you are watching the Winter Olympics. What events do you enjoy watching? (Wait for responses)
Which event do you want to do? (Wait for responses)
Being a spectator watching snow boarders doing tricks in the half-pipe, skiers race down the mountain at break-neck speed, and figure skaters leaping into the air for quadruple and triple jumps is much safer and easier!
The disciples were quite happy being spectators. They had been in the group following Jesus around listening to his teaching and watching him perform miracles. At this point, they had not gotten their hands dirty digging into the soil of need. Now, Jesus has selected the twelve who would be his close companions and called them apostles (implying they will have a bigger role to play). They were what we might call newbies – first timers in the world of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus leads them down the mountain to a plain. Imagine their surprise and angst at seeing the huge crowd awaiting them. A crowd of disciples who already believed that Jesus was someone to listen to and follow, as well as thousands of people from the area. A crowd that had come for healing and to hear Jesus speak. They were probably shocked and overwhelmed!
Jesus’ teaching here in Luke is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. The words Jesus speaks sound familiar. Blessings for those who are lower on the totem pole than others. (He also adds the woes for those above them).
The blessings in the more well-known Sermon on the Mount in Matthew are similar in many ways. But there are significant differences. In Matthew, for example, it is the poor in spirit who are blessed. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. The hungry and thirsty are those seeking righteousness who will be filled. Matthew’s blessings point to the future.
In Luke, it is those who are poor who are blessed. Luke’s blessings address the present: those who are hungry now, those who weep now, those who are hated now.
Yet the setting of each sermon is quite different. Jesus teaches from a high place in Matthew while he heals and teaches on a level place in Luke.
The perspective of each scene is important. In Matthew, the crowd looks up to Jesus as he speaks the familiar words of what we call the Beatitudes and then his reinterpretation of the law. For example, you shall not murder is really an extension of anger; you shall not commit adultery is an extension of lust. There is a sense that Jesus is talking about a higher law. We see it an expression of a community that we aspire to belong to. A law that is the framework of disciplined living as a follower of Christ.
In Luke, Jesus heals and teaches on my level – the plain. Here he can look you in the eye to make a connection. Jesus looks up at us as he kneels down to touch one in need of healing. There is a sense that the blessings he teaches are an immediate, everyday way of living inseparable from the joys and sufferings of life. The people in need are right there. Families who need food. Widows who feel left out. The lame who can’t walk to get water or plow their fields. And those not in that place right now may be at some point so, while they can, are to offer a caring hand.
It is a matter of perspective. In Matthew, Jesus looks down inviting us up to see the big picture of a new community, a new way of life. In Luke, Jesus looks up at us as if to say, “What are you doing right now?” There are people who are sick, tormented, and in need around you who have come from everywhere for help.
Jesus invites us to get down with him to help. To be a community of disciples who stand with the grieving, hungry, and poor and practice the presence of Jesus. One where the members get down in the dirt of need.
Donating to those in need isn’t enough. We are to step into the fray. Make lunch for the hungry or bring them food. Take time to listen to those who are hurting. Visit the sick and care for them. Visit those in prison. Watch a single mom’s kids so she can do her shopping without having to chase them all over the store. See those in need around you. Be present with them and help.
The Christian life, Luke says, begins with ministry not belief. We are to follow Jesus into the crowd and learn about him by working alongside him amongst the people. If we wait until we know enough, believe correctly, think our faith is strong enough, are convinced we are the right person for the job, or we can fit helping into our calendar, we’ll never get out into the crowd. We’ll wait until we think we are ready to go out. Then we won’t ever meet the people.
The Jesus in Luke tells us to act, to serve, to help, to be present with those in need. Faith follows serving as we experience firsthand his ministry in the crowd. We don’t have to already know what can only be learned by serving.
We discover that in serving lunch to the hungry, visiting the sick and hurting, listening to, and comforting the grieving, watching the single mom’s kids, or any number of other acts of caring that we are ministered to far more than we are ministering to others. Our own need for transformation is the most obvious when we are with those in need.
Another thing to consider – as if you don’t have enough already - in going out to serve is that we often think we are bringing Jesus with us as we minister to those in need. Yet, when we arrive, we discover that he has gone ahead of us. He is already preparing the way for us to work alongside him as we serve. We aren’t responsible for bringing Jesus along like grabbing the hand of someone to lead the way. Rather, we follow Jesus into the crowd. What a relief! We don’t have to believe enough, prepare enough, or feel ready enough to go. We only must follow.
Jesus knows us. The woes are an indication of that. He knows that we avoid the poor, sick, hungry, and needy because they remind us of how close we are to the edge of need ourselves. He sees our fear. Jesus knows our fears can keep us at arm’s length from those who need us now. This is why Jesus is alongside us. He doesn’t push us forward ahead of him. He brings us with him, invites us to join him in the crowd. Kneels with us to touch the one who needs to feel his love and to be healed.
Jesus extends his hand to us in invitation. Invitation to come with him in going to those who are looking for healing. In walking into the crowd with him. In being present with them. In digging into the soil of need. We don’t go alone or bring Jesus with us. He has gone ahead to prepare the way.
Jesus invites us into his ministry because he knows we will be transformed.