Sermon; Epiphany 6C; Luke 6:17-26
Today we get Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, albeit with a few differences: this version is given on a plain, or level place, not a mountain; Luke records four blessings and four woes, unlike Matthew's nine blessings and no woes; and Luke's version is much, much shorter.
As we move through this Epiphany season we have been focusing on the ways in which Jesus is manifested to the world. Ways such as a star, foreigners and gifts; a voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit; wine to water; Jesus moving outside accepted borders; and our response to the call of Jesus as being an epiphany moment for someone else. But as we move deeper into the Epiphany season, and as we move farther away from the Feast of the Epiphany, those revealings and God-moments are getting harder and harder to see, let alone find.
In the first part of today's passage we hear that Jesus heals anyone and everyone of illnesses and demons. Obviously there is a revealing and manifestation of Jesus in those healings. How many of them began with the line, “Do you believe I can heal you?” and how many end with, “Your faith has made you well,” we don't know, but in these healings there is certainly a revealing of Jesus as one who has dominion over both physical and spiritual realms.
The second part of today's lesson consists of Luke's version of the Beatitudes – four blessings and four woes. Among other things, this is reminiscent of the blessings and curses laid out before Israel by Moses in Deut. 11:36-28.
But this version is also a reiteration or further explanation of the Magnificat – “My soul magnifies the Lord . . . he has scattered the proud . . . he has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you. Woe to you who are rich . . . woe to you who are full . . . woe to you who are laughing now . . . woe to you when all speak well of you.”
You could look at this and wonder how Jesus is manifested or revealed in this second half of the gospel. You could wonder where the God-moment is in here. Because, looking around, it wouldn't appear Jesus is revealed in any of these. The poor are still with us, and growing in numbers. The hungry also continue to rise in numbers, as do all those suffering from all kinds of mental illness and depression. And the level of hate towards others not like us, especially hatred towards non-whites, is also on the rise. The woes Jesus speaks of almost come across as a sort of “Just wait, you'll be repaid someday” Karma-type threat.
So how is Jesus manifested in this passage?
Just before today's passage, Luke tells us that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray. After spending the night in prayer, he gathered all the disciples around him and chose twelve to be apostles. After this he comes down and begins healing and preaching – where we are today.
We are coming to the end of the Epiphany season. Today's gospel is what I call “the bridge” passage between the first several weeks of the season and the last few weeks of the season. Today's passage moves from seeing Jesus manifested through miracles and signs to seeing Jesus manifested through us.
I touched on this last week when I said, “It just may be that Christ isn't made known to the world through miraculous deeds, but in how others see you respond to his call.”
Today we more explicitly move in that direction. Yes, we have the story of all those healings, but then we move into the sermon – the blessings and woes. And here we have both a realized situation and a hoped-for situation; the way things are and the way they could be.
It's significant that this story comes after Jesus names the twelve apostles. Apostles are those who are sent. These twelve will be sent out to do the work of Christ and proclaim the kingdom of God. Later, seventy-two disciples will be sent out to do the same thing. And at the time of the Ascension, the apostles will be sent out to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth. Today's gospel is setting us up to see that Jesus is not only manifested in those miraculous deeds he did, but in our participation in the kingdom of God.
For Christ to be made manifest in our world, we need to work against poverty, we need to feed the hungry, we need to bring laughter to those who mourn, we need to let people know that this is a place where they are loved regardless of what the world might tell them. When we do that, the rich will complain that we are stealing from them. Those who have much will experience the pain of having less, those who laugh will have their eyes opened to sorrow.
This is the leveling out proclaimed in the Magnificat and in the words of Jesus. This is the raising up of those in the valleys and deep places, and the lowering of the high and lofty. For those being raised up, it is good news. For those being lowered, it can seem like terrible news. But how terrible is it when all people are seen and treated equally not only in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of their fellow humans?
This manifestation of Christ to the world is about change as much as anything else. Christ changed the water to wine. Christ changed the way we see outsiders. How are these epiphanies changing you? How are you helping Christ change the world?
Today is the bridge story of Epiphany where we move from Jesus performing the miraculous to us helping proclaim the Good News and changing the world. For some, this is a blessing. For others it will seem like a woe. And in the end we shall all be unified in Christ. But getting to that point will be the biggest miracle of all.