His words… on the level
By Dawn Comissiong
LUKE 6:17, 20–26
What a sermon Jesus preached there on a level stretch of ground in the foothills near Capernaum in Galilee! Today’s gospel recounted by Luke gives us the gist of Jesus’ memorable words, which have influenced the thinking of every true disciple, and of many saints of the Christian faith. Crowds of people heard Him. They had come from afar to listen to Jesus’ words and also to be healed of their diseases.
With His followers gathered around Him, including His newly selected 12 apostles, there were also Jews from Judaea and Jerusalem; there were people coming from the coastal townships of Tyre and Sidon – gentile country! All had flocked eagerly to hear this new preacher’s words addressed specifically to His disciples:
“Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said: ‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh. Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.’”
Jesus was promising that those who are in want of money, or food, and those who are sorrowful in this life are blessed; they must rejoice because they will be satisfied, comforted and rewarded in the Kingdom of God in Heaven.
What a revolutionary way of thinking, radically different from the traditional belief of Judaism!
The theory of Divine Retribution enshrined in the scripture was that prosperity, riches, and happiness in this life were God’s reward for righteous living and obedience to his Law. A life of poverty and want and unhappiness was considered as the result of the punishment of Yahweh God for sin. Disobedience to God’s Law was what brought down the curse of unhappiness and poverty in this life.
And here was Jesus, proclaiming the opposite thing! “But alas for you who are rich… Alas for you who have your fill now … Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.”
This was a totally different way of thinking. Jesus’ proclamation taught that having riches; having your fill of good food; experiencing a life filled with constant pleasure and joy; and having everyone approve of you and speak well of you – these will bring woe to you later on in eternity, instead of blessings and reward in the afterlife.
These ideas expressed by Jesus in this sermon on the level stretch have the effect of challenging the whole value system of the world. His words seem to strike at the heart of all our normal human yearning.
We long for material well-being, for enough wealth to afford us endless comfort and the pleasures of life; for an absence of sorrow and suffering of any sort. We hanker after the approval and appreciation and affection of our fellow-men. The world we live in nowadays places great emphasis on seeking present happiness and gratification and enjoyment in this life.
Jesus’ sermon causes us to reflect deeply on what is our real goal as committed Christians. Is it merely happiness and present delights in this life? These are temporary only. Or is our real goal happiness forever in Heaven with the Lord?
What is my attitude when I encounter hardship and suffering of any kind? Jesus instructs His true disciples: “Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.”
Though many may scoff at our trust in Jesus’ promise, we the followers of the Saviour choose to rely on His word, and keep the words of today’s gospel reading ever in mind.
The gospel reflections for February are by Dawn Comissiong of the Eternal Light Community currently assisting the Sacred Heart, Delaford parish.