17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] 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.18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20Then 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. 23Rejoice 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.”
Today’s devotion comes from an article by Karoline Lewis, Professor and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Dear Working Preacher, Simple Rules, February 19, 2019, Karoline Lewis)
What if we took Jesus’ words to heart and actually lived them? What if we did not relegate Jesus’ sayings in this passage to just aspirations of what’s possible but believed them to be activities that might indeed make God’s Kingdom palpable?
Last week, this tweet popped up in my Twitter feed:
Jesus didn’t call it “social justice.” He simply called it Love. If we would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion and other differences that we’ve allowed to be barriers, “social justice” would be a given. Love makes justice happen.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing)
There will be a lot of resistance to such preaching, I suspect. Once we start down this road, the road that actually prescribes ways to live because of faith, all kinds of warning signals start to flash and blink and we will have to decide how to navigate them. Is this works-righteousness? Is this sanctification? Or is this something else?
Remember, this is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount). We are all on equal footing here. This is not a competition or the means by which to compare your discipleship to others. Nor, do I think, this is a mandate for living your best life now. Rather, I believe that these words of Jesus are but a vision for what is possible, for what should be were we to have Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth in mind (Luke 4:16-30); were we to have Mary’s Magnificat in mind (Luke 1:46-55).
And so, maybe we do not cast this part of Jesus’ teachings on the level plain as rules but as that which results from the song of his mother and his first sermon. In other words, we cannot NOT love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us. We cannot NOT do to others as we would have them do to us. We cannot NOT be merciful, just as God is merciful. We are not asked to or called to judge. We are asked to forgive. We are charged to imagine the measure we give as that which we will get back. Damn, this is hard work, friends.
And yet, sometimes, maybe simple rules actually matter. Maybe basics maintain the level playing field that Jesus has in mind in this address recorded in Luke. As soon as we try to magnify our own accomplishments, as soon as we insist that the Gospel allows for a kind of adjudication so as to determine that some are better than others, or that we are better than others, Jesus reminds us that we are all on the same level, the same plain. And that truth, dear friends, is both liberating and yet troubling, if we are honest.
Our impulse is to use Jesus’ words as justification for our own value and worth when it comes to adequate belief and acceptable discipleship. And yet, our perceived ability to follow Jesus’ principles is likely grandiose, most of the time. We’d like to think we can do all of these things. The truth is, we can’t.
It is a leveling list. It puts us all on the same plain.
Sometimes faith can be principles by which to live. Sometimes, even, that is all we can do.
Let us pray: Almighty God, you call us to love our enemies. We need your help, your strength, your guidance to do as you command. Your will be done. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.