Having completed a study of the Sermon in the gospel according to Matthew, we began an examination of the equivalent sermon in the gospel according to Luke. This is a much shorter account than exists in Matthew and, as we began to see yesterday, has different emphases.
The Beatitudes in Matthew dealt with qualities that we can expect to see growing and developing in the children of the Father. But the equivalent section in Luke is a selection of Blessings and Woes. So in the previous study, I dealt mostly with the woes. It is a passage of scripture that literally deals with the haves and the have-nots. It pulls no punches when saying that the have-nots are in a better place spiritually and for their future status with our Lord.
This passage is found in Luke 6:20-26
Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’
In some ways, this passage of scripture has a very Old Testament feel to it. Some suggest that this is because of the way that Luke compiled his gospel, having interviewed Jews that may have witnessed the events. And that these people will have continued their study of the Law and Prophets to develop their faith, so the Old Testament will have influenced what they did and said.
It is worth remembering that there was no New Testament to refer to at the time, only the church meeting and those who shared as god gave inspiration. It is certainly thought that most of Luke’s interviewees were not close disciples of Jesus, but nevertheless he was very diligent in preparing the gospel.
I am also very much reminded of the book of Job.
There is something in human nature that, when they observe a person who is rich and successful, believes that person is blessed of God and so must also be righteous and so on. Rich people more easily win the approval of men. And so if such a person suddenly becomes poor, and disaster strikes the family, there is the tendency to think that something must have happened to bring the displeasure of God. This is the attitude that we can see in the friends of Job who met with him to ‘comfort’ him and to encourage him. They were convinced that Job must have displeased God in some way to bring this ‘curse’ on him and his family.
But of course, when you read the book, you quickly discover that the opposite is the case. It is almost like a wager between God and the devil about Job. I must confess that I feel uncomfortable at the thought that we, as humans, can just be pawns in such a game… But at the same time it is interesting to see that the devil was not allowed to touch Job without first being given permission.
And the crux of the matter is this: the test on Job was allowed not because Job had done anything wrong, but quite the opposite. It was because Job was the most righteous and good person alive at that time. God was even ‘showing off,’ if you like, about the character of Job to the devil.
There was one weakness in Job however, and it is something that is common to many, if not to all of us. And that is fear of the future. The thing that Job feared most of all was what came upon him.
I find this link interesting, because certainly in the Sermon as recorded in Matthew we have Jesus explaining why we should not be anxious and should not fear for the future, and only to deal with the troubles of the day that are actually here before us.
And in these ‘Beatitudes’ of Luke, we have a list of things that we can have missing from our lives, or do not want in our lives. We can lack money, food, happiness. We can be rejected, hated, excluded and insulted. And here we are informed that this lack is a sign of blessing, and that the opposite state – where you have all of these things – is a sign that you may be cursed by God because of evil works.
I will say again, as I have often said in the past, that there is nothing wrong, in and of itself, with being rich. But there is a great sense in this passage, and elsewhere in the New Testament, that it is the attitude to this wealth that is the problem.
There is first the attitude of the wealthy person themselves, because they most easily fall to the sin of Sodom as defined by Ezekiel (see yesterday’s study). But there is also the attitude of all the people in general to the wealthy person. They praise this person, and venerate this person. They lift him up as an example to be followed – as if, by being wealthy, they also prove what it is to be a good person. So even if the wealthy person trod on the necks of the poor and unfortunate, they still receive praise and preferential treatment. And their example tends to be copied, having been accepted as an example to others – even if that path to wealth was sinful.
Brothers and sisters, this is the way of the world today, and we must beware of falling into these traps. If you see the poor and needy among you, be appraised of the fact that the Lord is much more concerned with how you treat these people than how you treat the wealthy person. And also be aware of the fact that the Lord expects those of you who have to help those who have not. It was Luke himself, in his second book, who pointed to the fact that, in the early church, the rich and wealthy would sell all that they had and left the proceeds at the feet of the apostles, and that in the early church there was no-one needy among them.
The positive work of the church in this way, then is this: is there someone hungry among you, or who can only afford bread and water? Feed them! And, if appropriate, teach them how to budget and live economically, but healthily. And be aware that to do this properly can be a long-term project.
Is there someone in need of a home among you? Then house them! It can be that you give a spare room in your home to that person, or even the sofa for a while. Or it can even be that, as a congregation, you rent an apartment for them or even buy them a home. And again educate them if necessary in order to help them live better in the long term.
Is there someone who has not been able to buy new clothes or shoes in a while? Take them to the shops and buy these things for them. And again that education if necessary.
This is love in action! And that is the kind Jesus wants to see from us. But there is more….
We are told to love our enemies, and certainly never to hate.
So there is a homeless gay person near the church? Show that person some love and let them have a spare room in a Christian home. Believe it or not, you will not catch the ‘disease’ of being gay, and that person will not, because of this, automatically rape your son or daughter or influence them into a different lifestyle. And refrain from telling them that they are on the way to hell!!!! They need, more than others, to know that the love of God is available to them, and that you, as His child, are a demonstration of the love of the Father for all of his children.
There is an Islamic person suffering persecution because of the false Moslems killing in the name of Islam? Offer to let that person stay in your home for a while for their own safety. Or organise a group of you from your church to travel to work and from work to home with that person to help keep them safe. Organise a watch scheme, with brothers or sisters watching the home of the person suffering this abuse and bigotry, and so that intervention can be made if others wish to attack or deface the home of the Islamic person in any way. Or that police can be called to assist. Or that photos and videos can be taken as evidence.
There are very many different ways that love can be put into action. But don’t expect everyone to understand. You can become rejected, not only by people in the world, but also by others who claim to be Christian.
But there is great joy in living in the love that we know as children of the Father, and even more joy in sharing the blessings that are ours. And this is the point of much of what Jesus was telling us.