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Epiphany Sermon Series 2001

February 11, 2001 -- Epiphany 6

Luke 6:17-26

Luke's is a less popular version of the Beatitudes than Matthew's-at least in the "have" parts of the world. Luke leaves out the cushioning effect of Matthew's "in spirit". Luke also addresses directly using "you/yours", rather than "they/theirs". And Luke adds a series of woes, which evidently make a lot of us, otherwise godly people, squirm.

Many commentators, writing mostly to and for the "rich", the "full", the "laughing", and the "well-spoken-of", do their best to soften the Lukan blows. One explains Luke's inclusion of the woes is done with the intention of preserving a form of "wisdom speech", an innocuous literary measure. Another argues what really matters is the degree to which we trust in God for what makes one rich, full, laughing or well-spoken-of.

Rev. Brian Rude

Rev. Brian Rude
A.P. (02)27, Barrio San Miguelito,
San Salvador, El Salvador

Writing as I am, however, from amidst the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated/excluded/reviled/defamed, such concern for white-washing the text seems lame, distorted, or even evil. With a straight-forward, literal reading of Jesus' words Gospel/prophecy, the good news/bad news, proclamation/denunciation comes through loud and clear.

These words of Jesus' Sermon on the Plain reinforce a message already proclaimed forcefully, prophetically. Jesus' message is a reinforcement of that of his mother, the "meek, mild" Mary, recorded by Luke in her Magnificat a few chapter earlier: "…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." This is a disturbing Gospel/prophecy, to be sure-at least for the proud, powerful, and rich. For the majority of God's creation-the lowly and the hungry, however, it is a hope-inspiring promise, pure good news, pure Gospel.

For a church obsessed with and scandalized over who loves whom (about which Jesus says nothing) it is curious and sad that the scandal and sacrilege of poverty, hunger, sorrow, hatred, exclusion, reviling and defamation (about which Jesus speaks so clearly and forcefully) create such little stir.

I am writing this two days after experiencing Luke's contrast between the "blessed" and the "woed" populations described by Luke. The anniversary commemoration of the martyrdom of the 6 Jesuit priests and their 2 helpers is always a major event in El Salvador. On November 15 an all-night vigil is a spiritual and cultural festival drawing together peasants and folk from the "popular" sectors from around the country. Joy, exuberance, and a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, pervade. The folk in attendance dance, sing. They visit the night away, sit on the pavement, or sleep in some corner of the gardens. Then, on the afternoon of 16 November, the "other" group, the "fufurufu", gathers for a commemorative Mass. These folk come well-dressed, and require chairs for the hour-long mass. The atmosphere is formal and stiff. People seem withdrawn by contrast, sticking to themselves. Other than the Jesuit priests, I feel that I am the only one who attends both events. I don't know that I would presume to pronounce a "woe" on these folk of full stomachs and high reputations (though, oddly, it seems it was the overnight, "poor", crowd that was doing most of the laughing!). I'll leave that to Jesus, and simply, but faithfully, proclaim Luke's version of the Beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Plain.

The following is borrowed commentary from sources I like:

  1. Rev. Tom Hanks, Th.D., Rainbow Angel Perspectives on the New Testament: Liberation for all the Oppressed, Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 2000, "Luke", pp. 1-3.
  2. Luke T. Johnson, The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts, Scholars, Missoula, Mont., 1977.

Luke demonstrates Jesus' "solidarity with the poor and oppressed, the vulnerable and physically challenged, women, sexual minorities, and the socially despised. [God] empowers and equips the weak and oppressed to fulfill God's liberating purposes in human history….Lexicological studies easily established Luke's special focus on the beggarly-poor….Few scholars have done justice to Luke's concern for the "immoral minorities" commonly marginalized by society: prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. Luke's strong concentration on the economic dimensions of the gospel is...a response to the situation (Caesarea/Antioch?) ca.. 80 AD of a church relatively poor but faced with an unprecedented influx of more prosperous members and suddenly in danger of succumbing to the "love of money" characteristic of certain Pharisees. (1)

Luke shows how money in frequently has a symbolic function connected with the acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself….This is logical, since a commitment with Jesus and the poor communities of persecuted disciples many times put all possessions, positions, and human relations at risk. As in the cases of Jews and homosexuals faced with Nazi violence, and that of sexual minorities in many countries today, to publicly reveal yourself can involve risking all that you are and possess. (2)

Luke's Gospel proves particularly helpful in enabling us to discern the relationship between poverty, oppression and God's promised liberating justice (cf. the dominant Biblical paradigm of the Exodus). (1)

-- Rev.Brian Rude
San Salvador, El Salvador


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