The Sermon on the Plain: Happy are YOU

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From Mother Jones: “How We Won—and Lost—the War on Poverty, in 6 Charts” from 2014. Click image for article.

Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:

“Happy are you who are poor,
    because God’s kingdom is yours.
Happy are you who hunger now,
    because you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
    because you will laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets. (Luke 6:20-23, CEB)

There is so much here.

  • If you remember Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, you may remember Jesus saying, “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the Kingdom of [the heavens] is theirs.” Luke says, “Happy are you poor… because God’s kingdom is yours.” Luke’s Jesus is not talking hypotheticals or in third person. Jesus addresses his listeners directly. There is a world of contextual difference between “theirs is the kin-dom” and “yours is the kin-dom.”  
  • Matthew’s Jesus (Sermon on the Mount) first talks about the “poor in spirit,” which the CEB translates as “hopeless.” But Luke’s Jesus (Sermon on the Plain) isn’t talking about “poor in spirit,” just “poor.” As in, cash poor.  
  • Matthew’s Jesus talks about “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Luke’s Jesus talks about “hunger.” As in, empty belly, weak knees, and lightheaded. This is not metaphorical hunger, but poverty-related hunger.  
  • All of this makes Jesus’s solidarity with the poor and oppressed much more concrete. Luke’s Jesus is about liberation and good news for the poor. We Americans cannot spiritualize it or talk about metaphorical poverty. We cannot preach to comfortable middle- and upper-class people about how wealth is morally neutral, and that Jesus was just concerned about the state of people’s hearts. Jesus is talking about class and oppression here.  
  • Later on, when Luke writes Acts, he will talk about how the early church sold and gave away much of their material possessions in order to share things in common and meet collective needs. Luke’s Jesus and Luke’s church is concerned about the material conditions of human pain and prosperity.
     
  • Luke’s Jesus says “Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.” I love this active, concrete verb, laugh. By contrast, Matthew’s Jesus says of mourners, “they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Hear the difference?  
  • Luke’s Jesus also adds the word now. “You who hunger now, you who weep now.” The added emphasis indicates Jesus thinks this is a temporary state. A Great Reversal is coming.  
  • As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concludes his “happy” section with “Happy are y’all when you are harassed and vilified.” And as there, the implication is that the people he is talking to, his students and followers, are like one of the ancient prophetic guilds. We are a community of prophets.  
  • I love the way the Common English Bible translates “The Human One.” The traditional way of rendering the phrase is “Son of Man,” but that sounds too patriarchal to modern ears and it misses the power of the term. “The Human One” is the one who is coming into the world who manifests what God intended human beings to be. Jesus is the next step in our evolution, the one who demonstrates the fulfillment of being made “in the image of God.”  
  • Christians are used to referring to Jesus as the Son of God, but “Son of God” was a term used mostly for pagan emperors. Jesus’s own preferred term for himself is Son of Man or “The Human One.” I wonder how much of our theology would change if we followed Jesus as The Human One. Adam and Eve—and most religious folks—try very hard to be more like God. Jesus invites us to be more Human.  
  • In comparing Luke and Matthew’s version of the sermon, I honestly do not have a preference for one over the other. They both have nuance and power. My favorite one is whichever I am reading at the moment.

Prayer:
Lord of Love and Life, how do suffering and happiness coexist? Teach me solidarity with my siblings so that I may be truly happy. 

1 thought on “The Sermon on the Plain: Happy are YOU

  1. Thank you for your insights, Dave. They inspire my soul and my mind…and I am working on translating that into how I live my life.

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