The Beatitudes, part 11: Luke’s Blessings

Read Luke 6:20-23

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13 NRSV)

jesussaidwhat-webI bet you thought we were moving on from Jesus’ beatitudes, being that we just finished the last of them, right? Wrong. While we did discuss all of the beatitudes in Matthew, and we did refer to Luke’s Gospel in doing so, Luke’s account presents something unique to the beatitudes we find in Matthew.

While the differences may seem subtle, Luke’s Jesus is doing something different when it comes to who Jesus is addressing and what is exactly meant by these blessings. The most obvious difference is that the beatitudes in Luke are much more abbreviated than they are in Matthew and, what’s more, they are to be taken much more literally.

In the Matthew account, Jesus is preaching to the crowd that has gathered at the base of the mount to hear him preach. Yet, in Luke, Jesus is not teaching the crowd; rather, Luke records that “looking at his disciples”, Jesus gave them his beatitudes. What’s more, Luke’s beatitudes are seemingly addressed to them as it is written in the second person rather than the third.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This first beatitude predicates the remainder of blessings. It is upon this blessing that the others rest. More importantly, as we will see in the next devotion, it is upon this blessing that subsequent curses are ajudicated. It is in this blessing that Jesus makes very clear to his disciples, and to all of us, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor. It is also important to note that Luke does not mean the “poor in spirit”, or the poor in any other sense of the word. Luke means exactly has it reads, God’s kingdom belongs to those who are literally impoverished.

For those of us who are living with some money in the bank, whehter we are middle-class, wealthy, or the upper one percent, this teaching should shock us. It should not only be shocking, it should be scandalous and it should make us feel a bit nervous. What does Jesus mean by this? If I am NOT impoverished, does this mean that I WILL not inherit or enter God’s kingdom? How can Jesus expect us to impoverish ourselves and/or our families for some kingdom of which we have no clue will arrive in our lifetimes?

Following this, Jesus enters into blessings that are reversals of the current world order. Those who are hungry will be satisfied, those who weep will laugh and those who are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected as being evil because of their devotion to Jesus have much to rejoice over for they are actually included in a great heavenly reward. Also, they will be among a great insider’s club of people who were persecuted for doing what is right!

What makes Luke’s version of “The Beatitudes” so scandalous is that it goes against everything what we know to be true. In Jesus’ time, those who were poor, sick, hungry, etc., were so because of their sins and/or flaws. In a meritocracy such as ours, isn’t it true that those who work hard, pick themselves up by the boot straps, find success, and amass wealth are the ones who are truly blessed? Why would Jesus discourage working hard and amassing wealth? Isn’t Jesus a capitalist?

While Matthew’s version goes into more depth, and speaks to a larger audience, Luke’s version really presses us to take a long, hard look to see how we measure in God’s kingdom. Have we given up our desire for merit and fincancial gain? Luke not only takes the existential plight of the impoverished and flips it around on the wealthy but, more importantly, asks us, his disciples, to evaluate ourselves and choose which side we’re on.

I wish I could soften Luke’s message, but I cannot. Luke’s Jesus draws the line in the sand and flesh’s out what is meant in his teaching that “you cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). What I can do is invite you to reflecton how seriously you have taken Jesus’ teachings. There is a definite cost to following Christ, and that cost should make us pause and even feel a bit uncomfortable. Yet, Jesus is also trying to tell us that the reward is WORTH the cost. What’s more, as the old adage goes, if you don’t pay now you will surely pay later.

“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Lord, help me to know the cost of discipleship and to choose discipleship regardless of the cost. Amen.

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