By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 13, 2022
Luke 6:17–26 (ESV)
17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn 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 shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Last week we joined Jesus and the future disciples on the shores of the sea. They had just worked all night doing the things that they did best, fish. It found it interesting that the way Jesus got Peter’s attention was through Peter’s own strengths not his weaknesses. Peter was a master of his trade. He knew what to do, he knew when to go. If you were to speak to someone that does a great deal of fishing, they know fish. They have specific places they go depending on the weather. They have particular tools they use in specific places, and if you were to try to use something other than what they use they are probably going to laugh at you. This is why last week’s story is so remarkable. We get a glimpse into the reality of the humanity of Simon Peter and that of Jesus.
We saw that Peter had respect for Jesus, because he did not think twice about putting out his boat to allow Jesus to teach more effectively. Peter knew Jesus as a teacher, he respected him as a teacher and rightfully so because prior to that day, possibly the very day before, Jesus had provided relief to Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness. But when Jesus began to encroach on Peter’s turf, we see something different. Jesus suggested that they row out to the deep and cast out the nets one more time. Peter pipes up and says, “wait right there Jesus. We have been out all night and caught nothing. You are being ridiculous, but because its you we will humor you just this once.” That of course is my own personal paraphrase so please do not quote it as an authoritative translation, but that is the sense. Peter did not want to trust Jesus in that area because in this instance Peter was an authority, not Jesus.
We all know that Jesus showed Peter something that day. Peter was shown that everyone has room for improvement. Just when we think we know everything, we find out that there is much more to learn. This is why I love bible study. There is not a day that goes by where I do not learn something that I did not know before. Every year scholars publish papers, articles, and books that investigate various aspects of grammar and the usage of particular words within ancient writings, and suddenly everything on the pages become vibrant again. There is always more to learn. We need to continue to learn to keep our minds active. When we stop learning, when cease filling our minds with new knowledge, we begin to notice something. We notice our brains have a leak. It is a leak that has always been there, we have all forgotten things along the way, but when we stop filling our minds with new learning our brains seem to lose the ability to retain information. Of course there are exceptions and pathogens that can affect this, but overall those that continue to learn have less trouble adapting to change than those that stop learning.
Peter thought that he was a master in his trade. People might have even come to him for advice, he might have even been the man that fathers would send their children to learn newer methods within the trade. Peter thought he knew his business. When Jesus filled his nets, Peter was struck with a reality that is often hard to swallow. He was not that exceptional.
I repeat this story because today we meet Jesus and the disciples in a similar place. When we read through scripture we recognize two major sermons from Jesus, they are often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. These two sermons are similar, but there are some discrepancies as well. The first discrepancy is the location, or probably more accurately the orientation. I say this because in the sermon on the mount Jesus is on the hillside speaking down toward the people. And in the sermon on the plain, Jesus is on a plain speaking up toward people that are gathered. So even though the content of the message is similar, we are led to believe that Jesus presented these ideas at a couple of different times. I would venture to say that Jesus probably gave a sermon similar to this multiple times, maybe even every time he spoke.
I say this because that is what pastors do. We kind of get into a rhythm, there are key points that we find to have eternal importance, so we weave them into nearly every sermon we preach. You probably notice that in my own messages. I often repeat the holy rhythm of Jesus’s life. He made it his custom to worship with the community, he withdrew often to pray in isolated places, and he ministered to the needs of those within the community. There are not many weeks where this is not mentioned. And I mention this because I believe that disciplined lifestyle that I see in the witness of Scripture, is the very lifestyle that Jesus and the apostles are calling us to. When Paul urges us to put on Christ, he is suggesting that we live or reflect the lifestyle that Jesus lived. To be a disciple of a teacher, literally means that we practice their disciplines. I want us all to be disciples of Jesus, I want us all to be friends of Jesus, so as I prepare and present messages, I do want every I can remind you of what that lifestyle is.
Jesus is a great orator. Jesus had an ability to use the spoken word to cause people to think deeper and to change. One commentary writer said, “Power often divides, and great power easily, almost invariably, becomes coercive. The magnetism of Jesus’ unconditional love is a power that unites, however, drawing people into fellowship with himself.” When Jesus speaks, he does not speak like the great leaders of this world. So many of the leaders of this world look only to giving themselves or their group more power and influence. Jesus takes a different route. A route that many of us might miss. A route that we often overlook because all too often we get distracted by the systems of this world.
Jesus walks with his various disciples out to a level place, a plain. We are not told exactly where this plain is but we know that they are still in Galilee. If I were to make an educated guess, I am guessing that Jesus is most likely in the very place outside of Capernaum where last week’s sign with the fish occurred. I say this because there would be a level place where an entire community of fishermen could lay their nets out to dry, clean, and repair.
This crowd gathers, there they know that this community and these men from Capernaum have become the central location that Jesus travels from. And they come to listen to what he has to say. People have come from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and even from Tyre and Sidon. We may not recognize the importance of this at first glance, but the locations mentioned are important. They are in Galilee, which is not mentioned, but they are not mentioned because it would make sense that people from the surrounding area would be there. This is shortly after Jesus began his ministry. Jesus has remained in Galilee; he has only recently gathered the disciples that he will invest the most time with. His ministry is still a local thing, only within the area around the sea. Yet, people have heard of his work. People from Judea have traveled to listen. People from the capital city, the seat of the temple, left their sacred grounds to listen to him speak. And people from Tyre and Sidon are there. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the people of Nazareth sought to kill Jesus and the reason they were upset was because he did not condemn people outside of the nation of Israel. He included the gentiles with the people of promise in the blessing of the Messiah. Tyre and Sidon are cities of the Gentiles. There might be Hebrews that live in those areas, but by in large the people of those cities are largely influenced by the Gentile worldviews.
All these people: the locals, the elites from the capital, and people from outside the religious community are gathered on this plain listening to what Jesus has to say. Early in Jesus’s ministry the doors to the nations were opened and they were coming to the one true God.
Jesus moves out to the open space, he stops, and he lifts his eyes to his disciples. This too is important. The people gathered here are not merely curious. These are people that have moved into some sort of belief. These people look at Jesus as a teacher worthy not only of listening too, but to follow. To be called a disciple means that you have taken on the lifestyle of a particular teacher. Jesus is not addressing a curious crowd trying to decide, these people at this moment believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed leader they have been waiting for. They believe this because of the power and authority Jesus has already exhibited. Jesus has already fulfilled the very things that he proclaimed in the first sermon Luke recorded.
He lifts his eyes to his disciples, and as he lifts his head in this manner a hush settles on the crowd. They look toward Jesus in expectancy. Eager to hear the words that he will say.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This first statement is probably the most important part of this entire section because everything hinges what is defined in this one statement. Blessed are you who are poor. The word poor is one of those loaded words. It has a wide context.
Often, we look at this word from our own cultural perspective and because of this we misunderstand and often misuse what Jesus is saying. When we think of the poor today several things may come to mind. In ancient cultures this was not always the case. If we think of the story of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, we often think of that as being a great story of wealth redistribution. Those of us that have a more social justice mindset might think that we should continue this practice. I am not saying that your ideas are wrong, I am suggesting that there is more to it.
The poor then like today are those without means. They are people that live in poverty. They live, as some might say, hand to mouth. Meaning they work for their daily bread. They are not making plans for their financial future because everything they make today will be going directly into providing food and shelter to their family. This is part of the story, but it is not the complete story in scripture, nor in the story of Robin Hood. When looking at the word deeper and looking at the opposite words associated with the usage of this word, they have found that the antonym of poor is not rich as we might think but violent.
I want us to think about that for a moment. Jesus is not saying blessed are the poor because they are living in poverty, but because they are living under threat, they are persecuted, they are living in a state of need not because of anything they have done but because of what is going on around them. In many ancient cultures there was not a real concept of the middle class. There were those that governed and those who were lorded over. In ancient Rome the merchant class, the class we would more closely associate with our modern understanding of the middle class, the merchant class was feared because they were not always living under the same rules. They were not controlled. It is easier on the government to have everyone in the servant classes because they can rule them. And that is why Robin Hood has been such a literary success is because it speaks not of the rich and poor but the oppressed and the oppressors.
Blessed are you who are aware of your own poverty, your own needs. Blessed are you that understand that you cannot provide or do everything by yourself. Because yours is the kingdom of God. Those that recognize that they cannot do everything for themselves are required just to survive to work with those around them. They are required to make peace with their neighbors because if they do not work together how will they survive?
This is something that we so often misunderstand especially in a culture where we think and pride ourselves in self-sufficiency. But even in systems of capitalism this rule applies. Those that recognize their need will be more successful. A business needs their employees, they need their customers, they need their suppliers and their distributors. Our current labor shortages are a testimony to this dynamic relationship of the poor. When businesses do not recognize their own needs and the needs of those they serve or serve them we have problems. Problems that reach well beyond our paychecks.
The poor are those in need. We are all in need. It does not matter if you live in the United States or in Panama, we are all in need. When I was in Ukraine 22 years ago, we were advised to never speak of the amount of money we made. This advice was given because if you speak of these things out of context it can become misleading. I made at the time $10/hour that to most Ukrainians sounded like a fortune and it would be in Ukraine. But when we speak in context things changed. How many hours did I have to work to go to a movie? How many hours did I have to work to provide one meal? How many hours did I have to work to take my girlfriend on a date? These things were very similar between Ukraine and the United States. Both of us had to work approximately two hours to buy a ticket to see a movie. Both of us would have to work all week to be able to afford to go out on a date. Both of us would have to work the same amount to provide for the basic needs of life. Because wealth is contextual. Everyone needs.
But like I said this is not necessarily speaking only about our purchasing power but is connected to the use of violence. The poor are blessed because they live in a world system where they have no voice. They are oppressed and live in a system where they at the mercy of others. When Robin Hood is stealing from the rich in that great story during the feudal age, he is stealing from the those that rule over the people. He is stealing from the government and returning the taxes to those that were forced to pay. We often look at the story as a champion of socialism, but we could also look at it from the complete opposite perspective. We can do this because rich and poor are not necessarily about currency. It is a relationship between those that need and those that provide for those needs.
But Jesus goes on and says woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. This first woe is similar to the first blessing because they the woes like the blessings hinge on each other. Woe to the rich, not because they are rich, but because they are unaware of their own needs. The rich have lost sight. They have forgotten that they do not hunger because they have much, but why do they have more than they need? This is where things get a bit dicey and why violence is the antonym for poor and not necessarily rich. The rich are the ones that are in control of the society. They are the ones that provide the jobs, they are the ones that control government agencies. They are the world’s leaders. This is no different from today. Very rarely is a working-class person elected to a significant seat in the government. They are not elected because it costs too much to get their name out to be elected. It is the rich that rule in our world.
Woe to the rich, because they can so easily be blind to their own needs. They can be blind to the needs of those that providing them with the very things they enjoy. Without each and every one of us the owners of Amazon and Google would not be able to live their lives of luxury. Without us our president would not have been elected, even though we may not have voted for him. Without us the rich could not live the lifestyle they enjoy. This is why Jesus says woe to the rich. Woe to them when they look at the bottom line and make choices that threaten the safety of their consumers or their employees. Woe to them when they fail to recognize that those on the production line are just as valuable as those that sit in the corporate office seats. Woe to them when they forget that they have an important place in this world not because they are rich, but because they are the conduit through which society thrives. And when the rich forget who they serve and who serves them they become the oppressors. They are often the cause of their own downfall.
Woe to the rich. But again, this is not just about wealth. Jesus goes on and says blessed are the hungry not for you shall be satisfied. And woe to those that are full now, for you shall be hungry. These are examples of the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors, the rich and the poor. How many of us have left a church potluck hungry? If you have it is your own fault. When there is a healthy balance within the community there is no need. Everyone does their part, and everyone eats. This does not mean that everyone has complete equality it simply means that there is balance. When Jesus looks at his disciples, he is not giving them philosophical ideals, he is telling them this is what is expected of my disciples. If you have enough to eat, make sure your neighbor does too. If you do not have enough to eat talk to the community. See if we together can figure something out. But do not make assumptions. We all have needs, and we do not always know what the needs of others are. We cannot judge them, but we must live together within our communities. To be a disciple of Christ, to be a Friend of Jesus, we must take on his lifestyle. We must die to ourselves and life for the kingdom. And what that means is that we need to be honest with each other. We need to stop with petty jealousy, we need to stop with living in envy and greed. Instead, we need to love God with all that we are and all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Each of us are important. Each of us have a role within our family and within our community. Every person within this Meetinghouse is plays an important role in the kingdom of God. Some of us might stand to speak or sing, and some of you may think you have nothing to offer. A couple of months ago I stood up here as worship was coming to a close and I watched as the youngest in attendance came up and stood next to the oldest member of our Meeting. Everything the world uses to divide us was present and yet that child’s actions spoke more than every word that I uttered. We all have needs and we are all needed. It was the first time that child came to worship with us, and that child taught me the meaning of everything we should be about. The kingdom is for us all, and those that live in the kingdom love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Jesus with others.
Blessed are the poor because they understand need. And woe to the rich because they fail to see the need that they have. As we join with each other in this time of Holy expectancy let us reflect not on who we are on the spectrum of wealth and poverty, but instead let us reflect on our community. How are we showing the person next to you that they are loved by God? How are we showing the person that brings the food to the table at a restaurant that they are loved by God? Do you children know before they go to bed tonight that they are loved, and that they are important to you and to this community? Blessed are the poor. And may we who are rich in God’s mercy share with those in need.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 191.
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