20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." Luke 6: 20-26.
Here is Hungarian Aurel Naray's (1883-1948) painting of The Sermon on the Mount. It is a cloudy day. Clouds in the bible always signify God's presence. Jesus is delivering a divine teaching. The little crowd appears to be listening carefully. We seem to be standing on the edge of the group, in the foreground, looking upwards. Ah, that placement suggests I have a choice—I can join the group of learners, ascending spiritually to Jesus' instruction, or not.
Notice there is a little child with his/her back to us. Maybe the little one is me/you. We are all beginners. No matter how long ago we were baptized, we're all little wannabes. I suggested this years ago in a Sunday sermon at the end of Lent, when the catechumens are preparing for baptism. I said, "We are all catechumens." A woman got me at the door, disagreeably indigent at the suggestion.. And I thought, "What a boring Christianity she must live, trying to maintain her high spiritual plateau—her business as usual Christianity.
But then there is Judas to the right of the foreground. Poor fellow, he is staring down at the ground, perhaps in shame or contemplating the complicated connections he has to make in the future. St. Philip Neri prayed each morning, "Be careful of me today, Lord Jesus, I may betray you." Honest saint.
Under the painting we see St. Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount. It's very different from St. Matthew's version. Matthew leaves us a back door, a way out. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Those two words, "in spirit" leaves things amorphous. Remember Tina Turner's 1971, Rollin on the River? (Proud Mary). She begins, "Let's take it from the beginning, nice and easy." Americans love easy—the easy listening radio channel, recipes that are easy, gadgets and chemicals that make housework easy, fabrics that are easy-care. Well, there's nothing easy about the teaching of St. Luke's Jesus: "Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep...and woe to you who are rich, who are full now, who laugh now, who are well-respected."
Jesus has a different world view—God's worldview. It is an inversion of the greedy, planet ravishing culture we live in—the culture, the nation that can't stop professing its greatness. I opened up a dumpster the other day to get rid of a bag of kitchen garbage and found on top of the trash-mountain two antique brass fireplace andirons and a half dozen brand new kitchen rugs. Only in a country of super abundance ("You who are rich) do people throw away things like this.
Reading St. Luke's version of the Beatitudes—we could say, "Oh yes, God DOES have favorites. God favors the poor, the hungry, the ones who weep—trapped in crushing poverty." Some people have no idea (and don't want to know) of the world's deepest poverty—some of which is in our own nation. We just keep consuming and polluting. Coming back up the center church aisle, after saying good-bye to the folks at the door, a man (who had been waiting for me) stepped out into the aisle, blocking my way. He said, "I am so tired of hearing about them." "Who's them?" I asked. "The poor," he said. "But I didn't even mention the poor in the homily today. My text is on the pulpit; let's go look and you can show me precisely what's bothered you." Talk about an angry and raw place. Why aren't we familiar with Luke's version of the Beatitudes?
I'd suggest that as important as charity is—that we have some special cause(s) to which we send money—St. Luke's Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount require the privileged Christian disciple to have a complete change of mind. "But we have the mind of Christ," St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 2:16. It is change-of-mind-religion that leaves people uncomfortable.
"Woe" is a very serious and strong word and Jesus knows what he's saying. To be perfectly honest, there have been times when I have been tempted to despair of Christianity: I don't often meet Christ-followers, Christ-professors, who allow Jesus to change their minds. Or, I am stupefied that their mind-changing is in a confounding, even horrifying direction. They allow themselves to be "fed" by persons other than Christ. They don't see themselves or hear themselves.
I can only imagine what Pope Francis experiences—whose enemies are more likely to be found within the Church than outside. And among them, sometimes there are priests.