Luke’s telling of the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which we heard in the Gospel reading today is an extraordinary description for how we are to live our lives, together, you and I with Jesus.
By contrast, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers his ‘Sermon on the Mountain’, and his Beatitudes describe a way of living, as a covenant between God and humanity, a way of life to which I aspire to belong. This is a gospel for hard living, in the down and dirty mess of children going hungry, being abused and starved, of dead partners, of abusive men, of broken women, of a broken leg that won’t let me walk to walk to the bank to collect my welfare to pay my rent, or buy medicine, of limited education, lousy housing and violence in the streets and in the homes. Drugs, alcohol, unemployment, despair, and loss of hope.
In Luke, Jesus is standing beside me; he is kneeling next to someone who is sick or lame. Jesus is part of the joys and sufferings of life. Jesus is in middle, sharing in the struggles. The ‘pure in heart’ are not mentioned in the Sermon on the Plain.
In the end, Luke’s Beatitudes are about a community of disciples standing with the grieving, the poor and hungry; providing care, compassion and love. We and all the saints stand in solidarity, giving witness to the injustices to the world. Jesus is not asking me if I believe before I act, because for Luke, Christian life begins with ministry not belief. Luke summons Christians to begin with practice, to learn Christ’s way, by doing.
In Matthew, I hear Jesus calling me up, to go and join him and see the bigger picture. In Luke I see Jesus looking up at me as he is sitting with and beside those in need, asking me to stop what I’m doing and come and help him.
In the usual understanding of social, economic and political life, before Jesus gave us the good news, we could identify those whom God blessed and favoured by their continued wealth, privilege, wellbeing and social acceptance, while those whose lives were marked by continuous struggles, who experienced hunger and who wept, were believed to have been excluded or shunned by God.
Jesus declared, radically and lovingly, the kingdom of God was in his very person. He declared the poor, the hungry, those who were weeping, hated, excluded were actually blessed by God; while the rich, those who are full now, those who laugh now, those who are well connected, with status and privilege now are all the object of God’s woe.
Jesus institutes a new covenant between God and humanity, and through the self-giving love that he is, the Word made flesh, incarnate, fulfils the law and the prophets. Jesus radically challenges the dominant tradition of what God’s presence and blessings look like.
As he identifies God’s blessing with the poor and hungry, Jesus not only connects his ministry with the marginalised, but also paints an unexpected picture of who God is. Gone is the image of the God of strength and power who identifies with the influential, who blesses the privileged and whose presence is signalled by riches and political strength.
Just as Jesus is the perfect union of God with humanity, his presence and ministry to the sick, the lame and the outcast demonstrate God’s solidarity with those who are hungry and who weep.
The wealthy and privileged regularly question Jesus’ actions, and mock and revile him for spending time with the poor and the sick. But just as Jesus’ humanity reveals God in the flesh, so his ministry to the marginalised reveals God’s solidarity and presence with those whom society has forgotten.
God’s strength is revealed in weakness: God’s over-abundant riches are made known in poverty; God’s powerful presence is revealed in the one who has no place to lay his head.
We cannot spend time simply with words, arguing meaning and definition; we struggle to imagine ourselves in some of these categories.
Just as I despair of never being good enough, or living rightly enough, or never being content with my behaviour, Luke reminds me of the hope and good news Jesus offers; just act and serve, just help and faith will follow. Our action of following Jesus into the crowd of suffering and hope is all he asks of us.
Luke has identified God’s reign with a reversal of fortune and power, and Jesus’ declaration of his own mission is in the language of Isaiah when he started his ministry, linking healing with good news to the poor, release of captives and sight to the blind.
The next part of the Gospel message in Luke is equally radical. The key verse in this Gospel reading is: love your enemies. Jesus asks us all to reimagine God’s relationship with us with mercy and love.
In our world today it is still possible to recognise three dominant ways of establishing relationships just as in Jesus’ time. In the first type of giving, a powerful benefactor gives out largesse to those less fortunate, purchasing gratitude, fear, service and demanding respect. In the second way, we exchange gifts between friends and business partners, we share in mutual benefits and in a balance of power. In the third way, we take unjustly from another triggering retribution to the extent a victim is able in response, or not, as we get away with it.
Jesus addresses all these behaviours. He clearly forbids retribution. If we are wronged not only are we to refrain from vengeance and complaint, but we must love the wrongdoer. We are to show this love through action and attitude.
Simply feeling regret after doing something wrong is not a sufficient response. Those who hate, curse, abuse, strike or rob us must receive in return from us as Christians, blessings, prayers, the other cheek and more goods. You shall know we are Christians by our love in action.
What Jesus asks of us, may be at the centre of God’s grace: love your enemies. Do not retaliate. Do not look for ways to ‘give them what they deserve’. Do not seek or engage in revenge or even remember what they did that made you so angry yesterday. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who abuse you’, is what Jesus asks of us.
This invitation feels really risky. Our thinking and behaviour are so ingrained, Jesus’ invitation is almost impossible to contemplate let alone do. Yet Jesus did it, even on the cross to those crucifying him, and with those being crucified with him.
The command does not insist we have positive emotions about our enemies. What we need to do is focus on the idea that love is an action. You can love your enemy without liking your enemy. Feelings have no bearing on our capacity to express love for our enemies. Love of enemy means living in the hope, and acting towards the possibility, our enemy’s life can be shaped to the goodness God desires for all people.
My thoughts have gone recently to debates about use of words and language, how we use social media and tones of voice to judge and exclude. The description recently of the death of the Isis leader and the vindictive language about all who are associated with him including the death of children is not Christian.
The abuse we heap on those we despise is not Christian. Many of our political decisions are based on worldly judgements and not on God as we look to see who is excluded and despised in our social, economic and political systems today.
Jesus tells us, disciples who practice loving their enemies are children of God; as they who have received mercy from God, give mercy to others. God is so rich and abundant in love, God is giving it away even to those we don’t think deserve it without concern for gratitude or returned benefit.
Christians, receiving Gods overflowing mercy and love, are now victims turned benefactors. They regift God’s love and mercy to their persecutors. In God’s economy, the taker becomes the one who is in debt; the robbed becomes the generous contributor. The world is turned upside down as the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Today on All Saints Day we remember those who have set us examples in these ways in their lives; those who are already with God who have shown us it is possible to do what God has asked. We remember with love and gratitude, their lives of discipleship and examples of love, their contribution to God’s kingdom, for the hope they shared with us and the hope to come.
The Lord be with You.