The gospel for Sunday November 6th is Luke’s version of the beatitudes. In a sense, it is a continuation of Jesus’ opening statements in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is profound, not only in whom Jesus calls blessed, but perhaps more significantly for what it says about how God sees and calls humanity.
The gospel takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry which had only just begun with this declaration.
When he came to Nazareth… he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read… the prophet Isaiah ...He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
… Then said to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:16-19, 21)
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus adopted the words of the Lord, spoken through Isaiah, to announce his preferential bias towards the poor, captives, blind and oppressed. This gospel continues the theme.
Just before the opening verses Jesus had gone to the mountain…and spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he…stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people… They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (Luke 6:12-20)
With his example of prayer, healings and words Jesus showed his followers what his mission … and theirs’s… would be.
The actual gospel for Sunday (Luke 6:20-31) takes up the theme from Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry and articulates the spirituality behind his cures.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘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.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
The key word in this part of the gospel is blessed. It can mean happy, but in the biblical tradition the word denotes righteousness before God. Psalm 1:1-2 reads Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread… but their delight is in the law of the Lord …. The clearest sense of the word comes from Jesus in Luke 11:27-28 when he clarifies a comment from a woman in the crowd (who) raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’ God’s Word was to be met with an accepting response.
Jesus chose poor, hungry, sad, hated and maligned people to be his disciples. In doing so, Jesus was following scripture which time and again showed God’s preference for the poor (Lev 19:10, Isaiah 3:5), hungry, (1 Sam 2:5, Ps 107:9, Proverbs 10:3) those who weep (Nehemiah 8:9, Ps 6:8, Ps 126:6. Zech 12:10), who are hated (Gen 29:33, 2 Sam 22;18, Ps 18:17. Is 60:15) In the words of the theologian Karl Rahner, “Jesus saw every person as the event of a supernatural self-communication of God” and loved him or her as such.
On the other hand, the motives of those who followed him may have been mixed. His healing power attracted the sick. Some may have come to be ‘entertained’ by seeing a cure. A few may have found his interpretations of scripture to make sense in a whole new way and been drawn by his exciting new way of teaching. Others may have seen how he lived with integrity and been attracted by his holiness. (He had not yet worked the miracle of feeding the multitude. Luke 9:15-17) Jesus worked with these different motives because they reflected an inner yearning that, though it may have been confused or even shallow, still sprang from a God-given, fundamental desire for the goodness and wholeness Jesus offered.
Nor were his ‘blessings’ wishful thinking. Jesus saw each person as created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) with immense potential for good and for building up the kingdom. Their needs for basic goods, food, solace and cures opened them to hear and follow him. If they had turned to him in desperation or for healing that was fine. He would use that motivation to shape something greater, better. To develop their potential to be saints.
He did not hold out a false promise that the kingdom of God, of being filled, of laughing would come about instantaneously. He told his followers that they would be excluded, reviled and defamed in the present. But he offered them the expectation that these rewards would come to pass.
The gospel continues with “woes” that inverse the blessings.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘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.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.