The “Sermon on the Plain” in Today’s Gospel (6:17,20-26) is Luke’s version of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s Gospel (5 – 7). In the Lukan account, it appears that Jesus happens to take sides with the poor and marginalized, and seems to react harshly against the rich. For a better understanding of this passage, it is pertinent to examine the sociological context of Luke’s gospel. At the time of Jesus, the local dwellers of the Galilean villages suffered from the exploitation of civil and religious power, resulting to hunger, misery and diseases, imprisonment of the citizens, etc. At the squares, beaches, synagogues, etc., there were lepers, blind, sick, possessed, excluded, etc. These categories of people in their misery continued to trust and wait on the Lord for their liberation, while those at the helms of affairs (the religious and political authorities) continued to shut their ears to the message of the Kingdom, marginalizing the poor and getting richer, lived as though all depended on them without relying on God. For this reason, the care of the poor, the weak and the marginalized was at the heart of Jesus’ concern; thus, he made them the beneficiaries/recipients of the message of the Kingdom as we see in his ‘mission statement’ – Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
It was against this backdrop that we hear Christ’s message today in the gospel reading. He began by contrasting these two groups of people. The first group happens to be the poor, marginalized, sick, possessed, captives, etc. who placed their trust in the Lord for their daily needs; though their external appearances are worthy of pity, but in the eyes of God, they are blessed/happy. While the second group were those who enjoyed the good things of life, and had no reason to trust or rely on God in prayer but relied and gloried in their evil ways – exploiting their fellow-men. It was in the same light that our First Reading (Jeremiah 17:5-8) through the prophet Jeremiah admonishes us today: “a curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord (…) a blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope. To buttress this message, the psalmist (Ps 1:1-4,6) reiterates the words of the prophet Jeremiah, and summarizing them in ‘two ways’ – the way of the godly and their blessedness in contrast to the way of the ungodly and their ill fate; put differently, one means blessedness, happiness, and fruitfulness, but the other means cursedness, unhappiness, and judgment; all in consonance with the gospel message of Christ.
Dearest friends in Christ, the choice is ours to make – the way of blessedness (happiness) or the way of unhappiness (cursedness). The way of happiness is attained through spiritual poverty; that is, recognizing one’s limitations before God and relying on His providence and care. Also, as followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a “preferential option for the poor”, namely, to create conditions for marginalized voices to be heard, to defend the defenceless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor – this was the mission of Christ (as seen in the gospel), and by baptism, we embrace the same mission, believing that our reward is in the afterlife (heaven); this is a way of believing in the resurrection of the dead, on the grounds that Christ resurrected first (as reflected in the Second Reading – 1Cor. 15:12,16-20), and hoping that He would give life to our mortal bodies on the last day, when we shall enjoy the beatitudes.
©Rev. Fr. Chinaka J. Mbaeri, OSJ