Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Our gospel scene today is also recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But in Matthew’s gospel, this event happens on a mountain. It’s often referred to as, “The Sermon on the Mount”; you may be familiar with that phrase. But here in Luke, this scene takes place on what Luke describes as, “a stretch of level ground.” It’s a beautiful image—they’re both beautiful images—to consider.
Whereas in Matthew, one may imagine God speaking to his people from the mountain top, as he did with Moses on Mount Sinai; in Luke, God comes down to his people and speaks with them where they’re at—where they’ve gathered to listen to him.
That’s how it is here. We haven’t ascended to the heights, but our God has descended to be with us here. We’ve gathered on this open plain to listen to the Lord who speaks to us through his scriptures.
And his message to us is the same as it was to those in our gospel: Blessed are you who are poor; Blessed are you who hunger; Blessed are you who weep; and Blessed are you who are hated for my sake.
This is the same God who in the beginning said, “Let there be light,” and there was light; who said, “let there be the sun, moon, and stars,” and all those things came to be at his word. He is the God who said, “This is my body,” and so it was; and to sinners—“Your sins are forgiven,” and they were forgiven.
And so, when this same God says to his people, “Blessed are you…,” then they are blessed. God has spoken it into reality.
The challenge for us is that we—with our worldly perspective—may not regard the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, or the hated, as blessed. But they are blessed. That is God’s perspective.
And so, from that perspective, this [gesturing to the Crucifix] is an image of a man who died blessed. Here is a man who was stripped of everything—even his garments—his dignity, his life. Yet he is blessed. Here is a man who even said from the cross: “I thirst.” He hungered for what the world could not give him; he hungered for the fulfillment of his Father’s will. He is blessed. Here is a man whom society hated. He was denounced and executed in the most shameful manner. And yet, in God’s eyes, he died blessed.
The longer I’m in ministry, the more certain I become that this image contains all the answers that matter at the deepest level. You’ve seen me gesture to the Crucifix before during homilies—it’s become kind of my thing. On a side note, when I was in seminary, I’d keep a crucifix on my desk next to my sitting chair, and meditate with it at times. It was a peculiar crucifix. The body of Christ was in a unique position.
There’s a great contradiction in this symbol. All the evil in the world is contained in this image. There is no evil worse that the rejection of God that is symbolized here. This shows creation’s attempt at murdering the Creator, and usurping God’s place. And yet, that image is swallowed up in the greater image. Here, suffering is transformed into sacrifice. Here, death becomes the doorway to eternal life. Through the eyes of faith, we see beyond an execution. We see loved revealed.
On somewhat a related note, on occasion, I’ll hear an objection to God’s existence or goodness. Someone might say, "if God existed and was good and all-powerful, then how could he allow so many bad things to happen? If God were all-powerful, then he’d have the power to do something about it; if he were good, then he would want to do something about it."
And before I say anything out loud or not, I immediately think to myself: "But he did do something—he did everything. What more could he do?" That’s what this image tells me. The Cross of Christ is everything.
I’m reminded of Saint Paul. Early in his ministry, he had gone to Athens and spoke very eloquently and rationally about God. In short, he tried to convince the Athenians to worship the true God. But despite his brilliant rhetoric, he was unable to make great strides there. Notice that we never read from a letter of Saint Paul to the Athenians? There isn’t one. Saint Paul failed to establish any lasting Church in Athens.
His approach at Corinth was different, and we catch of glimpse of that in his first letter to the Corinthians.
...When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God…
… Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong…
… Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…
Friends, this is the power of God. This is the wisdom of God. This is the great answer to the human heart, and the riddle which we will continue to ponder until the last trumpet sounds. There is no other symbol under heaven to which every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
This is what gives Christ the audacity to declare the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the hated—to you and to me—you are blessed.