Lectionary Text: Luke 6:17-26
The Sermon on the Plain is the less well-known cousin of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of the same themes are there, but they are just different enough to make us squirm. Jesus comes down from the mountain where he named the 12 apostles and “stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples.” This is a level place with a great number of people and a rich diversity. People have come from far and wide to touch him and claim a small part of the power that he held.
Then he shares four blessings and four woes. Blessed are the poor, hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated. Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing, and those of high status.
Some call this as a reversal, but I think it is more of a levelling. For those who have been elevated for their whole lives, a levelling feels like a reversal. Jesus is on a level place. He is the son of Mary, who said that the powerful would be brought down and the hungry would be filled with good things.
The crowds came for healing, but Jesus wants to make sure they know what they are getting into. They are not just being healed. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live into a new community. They are a part of a new Kingdom, a new Kin-dom. This new community, however, is going to be different from what they’re used to. The poor and hungry have experienced pain and isolation. Jesus will show them something else. Disciples of Jesus are fed. They are cared for, provided for, and consoled.
Being a disciple of Jesus should mean that we are creating a community of shared struggle. The Church is a place where the hurting and hungry should come and celebrate the riches that are found in Christian fellowship. Our bread is broken and shared. Our wine is poured out for many for forgiveness and grace. This is a disruption of how the world thinks we should operate. Cultures are built on competition, not community. Society values the victor, not the vulnerable. Being a disciple means that we meet on a level plain.
Being a disciple of Jesus means isolation is over. The old structure of honor and shame is over. The ones who were given shame are now embraced and lifted up. But if you are rich, if you have enough, if you feel comfortable with the system, following might hurt a little. The system has been good to you, but the system is changing.
Your riches are terrible if you’re not helping others. Your abundance is cursed if you are not sharing. Your laughing is mocking those who are forced to dance for your entertainment. Those who have lived in privileged places of white, hetero-normative supremacy have had their time of riches and laughter.
I believe that we are seeing the death throes of those who see that their time has come. When power structures of oppression are called out for what they truly are – white supremacy, homophobia, patriarchy – those that benefit don’t simply step down. The woes are coming. For Jesus, the response was crucifixion. Today, the response is insurrection. But, and how glorious is this but, there is something else coming. We end this passage on the woe, and so maybe its appropriate to dwell in the woe for a little while. The next word in Jesus’ sermon is “but,” and I once heard Bishop Gregory Palmer say that he could write a book called the “Holy Buts” of the Bible. The woes are coming, and perhaps we are witnessing them all around.
But love remains.
In a world of honor and shame, and blessings and woes, love remains. Love enough to speak the truth to those who have been blessed by the system. Love enough to speak good news to those who are beaten down by it. Love enough to welcome all into the Kin-dom where a level place is holy ground.