TEXT: Luke 6:20-31
Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you … for surely your reward is great in heaven …” (Luke 6:20-23)
So begins Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” from Luke’s Gospel. It is very similar to the perhaps better-known “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, except that it has fewer “beatitudes”—Matthew has nine, and Luke has only four.
Another big difference between the two is that, in Luke, Jesus includes a set of “woes”—or curses:
“… woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“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.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)
In Luke, Jesus is clearly speaking about human need, proclaiming that when God’s Kingdom comes, there will be change—and it will be good news for people who are poor, hungry, and downtrodden. Some have said that in Luke we hear Jesus speaking to the victims.
Indeed, some have suggested that in Matthew’s version—the one with more blessings and no curses—the focus is less on the needy to whom promises are made, and more on the privileged who need to be challenged to take up new attitudes.
In Matthew, the beatitudes are not promises to the poor and hungry, but challenges to all people to be “poor in spirit” and to “hunger after righteousness.”
The kingdom of heaven will be for people like this, Jesus tells us—and if you want to enter it, these are the attitudes and behaviours you need to develop.
And it’s certainly true: this emphasis on attitude and behaviour is central to Matthew’s understanding of Jesus’ message. In Matthew’s Gospel, one’s status—whether as an Israelite or as a Christian—is of no consequence if God’s will is not being done.
But you know, I think Luke’s account puts forward challenges that are every bit as formidable as those in Matthew—and even more explicit.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9)
But in Luke, to these people who were living in an occupied country, under the cruel oppression of Rome, we hear him say:
“… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27b-31)
Now, there’s a challenge for any would-be peacemakers! Because that kind of peacemaking is about planting seeds of hope … but planting them in very poor soil. We might wish them to yield instant results … but that is not likely.
I think the point Jesus wants to make here—when he tells us to “turn the other cheek”—is that peacemaking is really about how we live our lives every day.
The American Catholic writer and activist Megan McKenna offers a parable about how peacemaking works. It goes like this:
There was a woman who wanted world peace, and peace in her family and community, and all sorts of good things. But as she read the papers and listened to the news, it just seemed that everything was falling apart, and she got very depressed.
One day she decided to go shopping and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She recognized him from all those pictures she had seen as a child. She shyly looked again and again, and finally got up the courage to ask, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”
“Do you work here?”
“No,” Jesus said. “I own the place.”
“Oh. What do you sell here?”
“Just about anything.”
“Yeah, anything you want. What would you like?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Well,” Jesus replied, “just walk up and down the aisles and make a list of what you want and when you’re finished, bring it back here and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
So she walked up and down the aisles and she was astonished. There was a corner display of “peace on earth,” a shelf of “no more war or hunger or poverty.” Piled high on the counters was peace in families, an end to drugs, clean air, and careful use of resources. Everything she longed and dreamed for was right there.
She furiously scribbled her list as though the whole thing would disappear. When she got back to the counter, she had a long list.
Jesus took it, skimmed through, and said, “No problem.” Then he bent down behind the counter and picked up all sorts of little packets, sorted them out and laid them on the counter.
The woman was astonished, and she asked, “What are these?”
“Seed packets,” Jesus said.
“You mean I don’t get the finished product?”
“No, not yet. You come here to see what it’s going to look like—like pictures in a seed catalogue—and I give you the seeds. You go home, plant the seeds and nurture them and help them to grow. Sometimes you get to reap them, sometimes someone else does.”
“Oh,” she said. And she left the store without buying anything.
None of us may be in a position to work directly for world peace. But we can all be peacemakers who are planting the seeds of peace where God has placed us. These seeds may sprout and grow immediately, or they may only bear fruit long after we are gone—or perhaps not until God’s Kingdom comes.
When Jesus calls the peacemakers “blessed,” it’s because they follow in his footsteps. It’s not peacemaking that makes us children of God; it’s being children of God that makes us peacemakers.
When we love God, we are drawn into God’s family business. And the family business is shalom—peace, the restoration of all things into the fullness of God’s love.
It seems to me that when we gather on a day like this one to remember and give thanks for the sacrifices that others have made on our behalf, we are in large part honouring the hope which they had.
It was, after all, a hope of shalom—not simply a hope of victory, or hope for the cessation of war, but something much grander and larger: hope for a better world, a freer and more just world. That is what our heroes fought for, and what so many died for. That is what their comrades returned home to build, and what their former enemies returned home to rebuild from the rubble and ashes of war.
And our part, if we would be peacemakers, is to honour their hope by taking up their cause—taking up their quarrel with the foes of freedom and justice and peace. If we would indeed hold high the torch which they have passed to us, we must become planters of the seeds of shalom.
Let us sow the seeds of peace, no matter what the sacrifice, no matter how great the hardship. If we break faith with those who sleep—whose hope for a better future is a legacy of shalom for all humankind—then we are the ones whose souls shall not rest easy.
May God save us from such a fate. Amen.