As Luke presents the first and great example of Jesus’ teaching, the Lord addresses his listeners after praying all night ~ the same night of prayer preceding his choice of the Twelve. Luke therefore puts Jesus’ Beatitudes in a significant context. In contrast to Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Luke portrays Jesus as speaking on a plain, with a further notable difference. In Luke, Jesus directs his words to his twelve newly designated apostles as well as to the wider community of disciples that he is gathering. In other words, in Luke, Jesus is forming and encouraging a community of disciples, who will follow him in how they live, as well as preserve his teaching.
This question can help us hear Luke’s Beatitudes: Toward what do we live? For we all live toward something! To one degree or another, we all start by living toward ourselves. All too easily, we arrive at a false conclusion ~ that the best way of living is to be rich, always having plenty to eat, with a life that is unburdened by cares and full of pleasurable entertainment. Having all these things, we also expect to have the positive regard of our neighbors and acquaintances. Whether consciously or not, these are the features of the life toward which most of us live. And that toward which we live, therefore, also shapes how we live.
Jesus’ beatitudes are the inverse of the woes he describes. Blessed are the poor, and those who are hungry. Blessed are those who weep, and those who are hated and excluded ~ all on account of the one who reveals what it means to be truly human. These indications of blessedness are about what it means to be human in the way that God intends for us to be. And they exemplify what it means to be made in the beauty of God’s image. This is because people who are poor, hungry and who weep tend to live toward God, and toward the beauty of God’s power, rather than toward themselves. They become like trees planted by streams of water.
This helps us appreciate something that Luke observes in the same context ~ that all in the crowd were trying to touch Jesus, “for power came out from him and healed all of them.” Aware of their needs, people had come out to hear him and be physically healed, and cured of their unclean spirits. The key was not simply their need, but more importantly their awareness of their need. In Jesus’ view, we are blessed when are aware of our need for transformation toward the beauty of wholeness and flourishing.
The painting above is James Tissot’s, Jesus Teaches By the Sea. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, February 3, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.
A really minor thing: Maybe the flat place–the plain–was a terrace on the mountain, the hill.
Yes. The text is uncertain, and by tradition many assume that Luke was referring to a plain by the sea. Perhaps more significant is the possibility that Luke intentionally wanted the change in local to correspond to the differences that he presents in his parallel to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.