You may have heard of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5).
If not, here’s a quick tutorial. Jesus is speaking to a crowd sitting on a hillside. His iconic words there are some of the most beloved in the Bible. He instructs them with words of wisdom on how to live. In the heart of that speech, he describes the kinds of people who blessed by God, close to the heart of God.
That list of blessings is called the Beatitudes. Among those described as blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sees the humble in heart as special to God. That’s a good word.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Less famous than the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6). It’s the same sermon, but reported and interpreted differently by the two different Gospel authors.
In Luke, Jesus preaches to people gathered on a plain, a flat place, with good news for people run over and flattened by politics and economics.
Then he 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, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But 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.”
New Revised Standard Version
Notice the difference? In Matthew, the blessed are poor in spirit, on the inside, in their hearts, rich or poor, no matter their zip codes or bank accounts.
On the Plain, in Luke, the blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the persecuted martyrs. He’s talking to and about people in poverty, who need actual food. He’s praising people with him on The Way of Mission, his team who are and will be persecuted for changing the world.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus says woe to the rich, the fattened, whose laugh is a guttural growl of greed and self-satisfaction that they are doing so well at the expense of the poor. Beware.
Luke’s Sermon on the Plain makes it blunt, plain, and clear that God is at work for economic and political change. In Grace, God is at work to lift up the poor and bring down the rich. God’s gracious hand is leveling the playing field. To feed the hungry, and let the fattened fend for themselves. God’s grace is comfort and strength to help people rise up, providing a power that energizes The Way of Mission to change the world.