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ON THE BEATITUDES

Read­ing Time: 11 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Jer 17:1–8; 1Cor 15:12.16–20; Luke 6:17.17–20)

Lord, keep me low; empty me more and more; lay me in the dust, let me be dead and bur­ied as to all that is of self; then shall Jesus live in me, and reign in me, and be truly my All-in-all!” “The man who is quite sat­is­fied with the name of a Chris­ti­an, without the life of a Chris­ti­an will nev­er see God nor any­thing at all until his eyes are divinely opened” (C. H. Spurgeon).

Introduction

Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Peter to be his dis­ciple after teach­ing them how to dig deep and win souls for God. after­wards, Jesus travels with Peter and the oth­er dis­ciples. Luke reports acts of heal­ing (a per­son with lep­rosy and a para­lyt­ic man) and the call of Levi, the tax col­lect­or. Jesus also replies to ques­tions from the Phar­isees regard­ing fast­ing and the observ­ance of the Sab­bath. In the pre­ced­ing verses, Luke doc­u­ments the choos­ing of the twelve apostles by Jesus from among his dis­ciples, whom he called apostles Apostle is a Greek word that means “one who is sent.”

This Sunday gos­pel read­ing is the fam­ous Ser­mon on the Plain. The par­al­lel pas­sage is found in Mat­thew 5:1–12. While the Lukan ver­sion is called Ser­mon on the Plain, that of Mat­thew is des­ig­nated as the Ser­mon on the Mount. Besides the titles, there are also oth­er dif­fer­ences and sim­il­ar­it­ies between Luke and Mat­thew. To be noted is that the form of the Beatitudes found in Luke and Mat­thew is not unique to Jesus. Beatitudes are found in the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment world too. For instance, they found in the Psalms and in Wis­dom lit­er­at­ure (Qohelet, Sir­ach, etc). Beatitudes are ways of teach­ing God’s favour.

The beatitudes have been influ­enced by Isai­ah 61, which men­tions the poor in 61:1; com­fort for mourn­ers in 61:2; right­eous­ness in 61:3.8.11; heal­ing of the broken-hearted (same as the pure in heart of Mat­thew) in 61:1; and inher­it­ing the land in 61:1 (cf. also Ps 37:11). The king­dom of heav­en is func­tion­ally equi­val­ent to the preach­ing of the good news of Isai­ah 61:1. That is, the king­dom of heav­en of the beatitudes has the same effect and mean­ing with the preach­ing of the good news as stated in Isai­ah 61:1.

Mountaintop and plain ground

As noted above, while Mat­thew makes Jesus to teach from the moun­tain­top, Luke presents Jesus as teach­ing from the plain ground. Both present­a­tions cor­res­pond to the ori­ent­a­tion and theo­logy of the Evan­gel­ists. By mak­ing him speak from the moun­tain­top, Mat­thew presents Jesus speak­ing with the author­ity and voice of God. This is the impres­sion the read­er gets. In the Bible, the moun­tain­top is a sym­bol of intim­acy and famili­ar­ity with God. To ascend the moun­tain means behold­ing God and speak­ing for God. On this con­text, we remem­ber the example of Moses and the Com­mand­ments (cf. Exod 19–20). On his part, Luke makes Jesus teach from the level ground. In oth­er words, Jesus stood on the same level with the dis­ciples and the crowd. This should not sur­prise us. Luke presents Jesus’ dif­fer­ently. For him, God iden­ti­fies with His people. He is God who lives and oper­ates in the midst of His people. For both Evan­gel­ists, He is God among us. Wheth­er from the moun­tain­top or from the level ground, God remains close to His people and He keeps bless­ing His people. He is God with us, God in us, and God for us.

On the beatitudes

While Mat­thew has nine beatitudes, Luke has only four. Again, to the four beatitudes, Luke presents also four woes. The Eng­lish term beatitude is a trans­la­tion of the Greek word makári­os. In our con­text, the word blessed (makári­os) could be trans­lated as happy, for­tu­nate, priv­ileged, or favoured. “And Jesus lif­ted up his eyes on his dis­ciples, and said: Blessed are you poor, for yours is the king­dom of God” (Luke 6:20). That is, blessed or happy are those of you that are my dis­ciples and who are (mater­i­ally) poor, for the king­dom of God belongs to you. By spe­cify­ing that Jesus lif­ted his eyes on the dis­ciples, Luke under­lines an import­ant aspect: that Jesus wanted his dis­ciples to listen attent­ively because what he is about telling them needs ser­i­ous com­mit­ment and undi­vided atten­tion. This is the kind of atten­tion and com­mit­ment that are required of us, whenev­er we are read­ing or listen­ing to the word of God. Every form of dis­trac­tion should be avoided even when we pray, for in pray­ing, we equally make use of the word of God.

The Matthean ver­sion is dif­fer­ent. “Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en” (Matt 5:3). That is, blessed or happy are those who are poor in the spir­it, for the king­dom of heav­en belongs to them. For Luke, the poor is the poor. There is no need dis­tin­guish­ing between the poor and the poor in spir­it. Poverty is poverty even if it is of the spir­it. How­ever, we should note that both Mat­thew and Luke speak from their theo­lo­gic­al and cul­tur­al back­grounds. They use the lan­guage their audi­ence will com­pre­hend. That is the only way to make the word of God com­pre­hens­ible and effective.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” (Luke 6:21a). This is the second beatitude repor­ted by Luke. The Matthean ver­sion reads “Blessed are those who hun­ger and thirst for right­eous­ness, for they will be sat­is­fied” (Matt 5:6). Just like in the first beatitude, Luke slightly dif­fers from Mat­thew. For Mat­thew, those who will be sat­is­fied are those who hun­ger and thirst for right­eous­ness. Luke omits this specification.

The Greek verb pein­aō means hun­ger or to be hungry. In the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment, it is used both lit­er­ally (cf. Matt 4:2; 12:1; Mark 11:12; Luke 6:3; 1Cor 11:21.34; Phil 4:12; Rev 7:16) and fig­ur­at­ively (cf. Matt 5:6; John 6:35). In our pas­sage, pein­aō is used fig­ur­at­ively. Like the poor, Luke refers to mater­i­al, spir­itu­al, mor­al and social depriva­tions. It is more inclus­ive. This agrees with what Jesus did when he after feed­ing the people spir­itu­ally, also fed them mater­i­ally. The nat­ur­al con­sequence of feel­ing hungry accord­ing to Luke 6:21 is to be sat­is­fied. But sat­is­fied of what and by who? The Greek word chortazō (eat to the full, be sat­is­fied, be filled) is a strong graph­ic word. The same word used in express­ing the out­come of the feed­ing of the mul­ti­tudes with five loaves of bread and two fish (cf. Matt 14:20; Mark 8:8; Luke 9:17), is also used by Luke to express com­plete sat­is­fac­tion of mater­i­al, mor­al and spir­itu­al hun­ger. To earn such sat­is­fac­tion is cer­tainly to be ful­filled. That is, to eat to the full mater­i­ally and spir­itu­ally. And it is only God who grants such sat­is­fac­tion. There­fore, to the ques­tion: to be sat­is­fied of what and by who, we can con­fid­ently answer, of the grace and pres­ence of God and by God.

The third beatitude by Luke is “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21b). For Mat­thew, it is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be com­for­ted” (Matt 5:4). While Mat­thew says those who mourn, Luke says those who weep. Again, while those who mourn will be com­for­ted accord­ing to Mat­thew, for Luke, those who weep will laugh. Keep­ing the ter­min­o­lo­gic­al dif­fer­ences apart, the con­clu­sion is the same – those who mourn or weep, will have their tears and sor­rows wiped out and changed into joy. Wheth­er they laugh or are com­for­ted, what mat­ters is that they no longer weep nor mourn. This is why God has anoin­ted Jesus – to take away mourn­ing and weep from believers.

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