Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain, recorded in Luke 6, is a compilation of some of the fundamental teachings of the Kingdom. The teachings are very similar to the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7, but while Matthew spiritualizes the text to some extent, Luke leaves the text raw and unfiltered. Consider the beatitudes.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-21)
It’s not the poor in spirit, those who hunger for righteousness, or those who mourn the sins around them who are blessed. Instead, it’s those who are very much living hard lives. It’s the single mother who works an $11 an hour job, not nearly enough to support her family. It’s the children, and families, that go to bed hungry at night because they don’t have enough to eat. It’s those who have experienced the death of siblings, parents, and children, and spend most days in tears. Jesus says for those struggling with real physical struggles, there is good news. For those who spend most of their lives in tears, laughter is coming. For those who spend most of their lives hungry, a feast is coming. For those who feel like there is never enough money in their wallet, riches are coming.
Then, just in case we don’t get the picture and want to spiritualize Luke’s hard teachings to make them easier, Jesus goes on to address those who have power. Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full. Woe to you live easy lives. Woe to you who have power, prestige, and control. Woe to you who get special privileges for who you are; who benefit from society’s economic disparities and take advantage of capitalistic opportunities to the detriment of those on the other end of the spectrum. Woe to you, because a great reversal is coming.
And the good news, is not just that spiritual renewal is coming, but that in some sense Jesus is speaking into real physical issues. To the poor, the hungry, the sad: when God’s reign and rule comes, you will be full.
To those of us who believe that the reign and rule of God is breaking in around us; this is good news.
So we march to the politicians office, these powerful politicians whose jobs are bought by large donations from lobbyists that keep the politicians from ever actually doing something to change our society; instead pandering to the lobbyists who bought their jobs, and we say: “woe to the rich, woe to the powerful, woe to those who are full, your time is coming.
And we march to Wall Street. We march to the stock brokers and large corporations, who celebrate and rejoice that the Dow Jones average continues to rise, and who get rich off of large tax breaks and celebrate with multi-million dollar parties and stock distributions, and we say: woe to the rich, woe to the powerful, woe to those who are full, your time is coming.
And we march to employment offices and job interviews, where we are confronted with HR representatives who quietly remind us that because of our age, or because of our gender, or because of our skin color, we are not hire-able. We loath the cultural world we live in that says everyone gets a fair chance, while we know that’s not true, thus we say: woe to the rich, woe to the powerful, woe to those who are full, your time is coming.
Then we march to a shabby area of a third world country during our short-term mission trip and our fantasy world collides with reality. We are not the poor, the hungry, or those that mourn. If for no other reason than that we were born Americans, we are much more likely to be grouped with the rich, powerful, and full than the poor, hungry, and sad.
Thus the words of Jesus take on a different meaning; because the woes are directed to us. Woe to the rich, the full, those who laugh for your time is coming. And we feel guilty because we have lots to eat, and our lives, compared to many in the world, are privileged.
But guilt doesn’t change the reality. We could give all of our money away, never eat good food, and live in cardboard boxes; but those choices would probably not bring us any closer to Jesus or make us more spiritual. The words of Jesus don’t need to necessarily cause guilt, but they should cause us to live responsibly.
The good news of Jesus is that the reign and rule of God changes the reality; not just spiritually, but physically. When God’s reign and rule is recognized in this world, it has real and lasting implications for the way we live. While we still live in a broken world, we can choose how we live in that broken world.
For instance, there are lots of ways to make money in our broken world, ways that are perfectly legal. But just because they are legal doesn’t mean they are responsible. May we resist the temptation to pad our bank accounts and 401k off of the backs of the poor, the downtrodden, the hurting, and the powerless.
There are lost of purchases we can make, many that are perfectly legal and legitimate. May we resist the temptation to keep accumulating things for the good life, while we look around us at those who don’t have enough.
There are many political causes and ideas to champion in our world, many that involve complicated issues to dissect. May we resist the temptation to champion and fight for political policies that most benefit us personally, or protect our personal way of life, but leave out many people who are also living in this country, some who live on the very streets beside us, who are struggling to survive because they can’t catch a break.
May we hear the words of Jesus and learn to live responsibly, understanding that we are first and foremost living under the reign and rule of God. And if the good news is really good news, it must be good news for everyone.