Luke 6 20 -31
This morning’s passage from the Gospel shows marked similarities to the more famous Sermon on the Mount which features in Matthew’s Gospel. Once again Jesus is speaking to a large group of people, many of whom have heard about this man who can cure all sorts of ills and have travelled some distance in desperation that they too can be healed. These were a people who were lacking in hope, whose faith and trust in God had been shaken to the core. Far from the glory days that they had experienced as the rulers of the promised land, they were now the oppressed, living under the yoke of the mighty Roman Empire, struggling to make sense of their dispossession, desperate for the coming of the Messiah yet blind to his presence among them.
We might view these people as having nothing in common with us but actually there are clear similarities. There is I fear a considerable loss of hope among many now, a loss compounded by the worsening cost of living crisis which is going to affect people profoundly especially as we move into the winter months. We might not be oppressed in the way that those to whom Jesus spoke that day were but neither do we live in a fair and equitable society. Within our community live the dispossessed and vulnerable, those who do not have a voice, those who are almost invisible. There is a need for strong and just leadership, for those who govern to do so with compassion and wisdom. There is a desire for an inclusive and loving society were those most in need are prioritised and those who have excessive resources share these generously and unselfishly.
It is in this knowledge that in approaching todays Gospel passage we, like the crowd gathered to hear him, might struggle to reflect on how Jesus’s words could possibly have relevance to those for whom poverty and hunger is a fact of life. Would to read that they are blessed in their poverty and that the kingdom of God will be theirs really be of any comfort in such situations? To be told that although they are hungry now, they will eventually be satisfied mean anything to them at all? There certainly are significant contrasts between Jesus’s words of encouragement to those he is addressing and the condemnation he heaps upon those who in this life appear to have it all. They make uncomfortable reading for those in a place of privilege and plenty. Is it really so dreadful to have wealth, for others to speak well of you, to have sufficient food? How do we reconcile the blessings we have received in this world with the promises of Heaven?
As we press further into the passage, we hear the words of wisdom Jesus speaks as he describes how we should use those blessings in ways that benefits others. He encourages us to consider how we can share our good fortune as a foundation from which to build God’s kingdom here on earth. As always Jesus’s words do not necessarily make for easy reading and actually putting them into practice consistently is an even tougher call. In theory of course why would we not want to treat others well in the hope that they would reciprocate but in practice it can be very much more difficult. Our intentions are good but our actions do not always bear this out. When we are hurt by others, when we witness injustice, cruelty, intolerance, or simple unkindness it takes an enormous amount of strength to do as Jesus asks and to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. To turn the other cheek when someone hurts us, be it physically or emotionally, is really hard to do. Our natural defence mechanisms make us want to retaliate and not be intimidated. Yet we know that Jesus provides a perfect example of this behaviour during his trial and subsequent crucifixion – he will literally turn the other cheek in the face of humiliation and pain.
To be generous to those in need can be hard as well – we each need to discern for ourselves what Jesus is asking of us with respect to how we honour his words and it will be different for all of us. I don’t think Jesus is asking us to disadvantage our own families in order to meet the needs of others but I do think he is asking us to consider how we can balance taking care of those we love with responding to those who have no one to take care and love them.
If we consider the lives of those who are remembered as Saints, we are humbled by the sacrifices that many have made in order to live exactly as Jesus exhorts us to do. We may feel that we will never be able to emulate such holiness and goodness. And truth be told we probably can’t to the same extent. But if we look around us, we can see countless examples of people doing good to others, looking after those in need, caring for the most disadvantaged in our society. You will I am sure all know someone who you would describe as a saint and rightly so in the light of the sacrifices they make in order to make the lives of others better. Clement of Rome wrote “Seek the company of the saints, for those who seek their company will be sanctified”. When we spend time with those who radiate love & kindness not only do we feel good we are encouraged to emulate their actions. It might not be undertaking massive acts that benefit hundreds of people but it is in the small things that we do to help others that we spread the fragrance of Jesus and extend God’s kingdom. Jesus’s words are those of encouragement, they are words requiring us to take heed if we are to be his followers, they are an exhortation to be faithful and to have trust regardless of what life throws at us, hard as that might be.
They are words of hope, hope of a world which is inclusive and fair, that does not differentiate between those that have and those that haven’t.
They remain as subversive and revolutionary as they were when Jesus spoke them and Luke recorded them that we might still have them as a call to action. As a parish family I believe that we are doing our very best to respond, to reflect the values that being disciples of Jesus requires of us. Every week people bring donations of food so that we are able to supplement the bare cupboards of others. On Thursdays we offer hospitality to those who come to collect those gifts that others have generously provided. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we open our doors to welcome our community to enjoy the company of others at Craft & Chat and Joyful Noise. On Wednesdays and Sundays, we meet to worship our Lord and to give thanks for his presence in our lives. This afternoon we will gather to remember those we have loved and have gone before us. We will provide a safe space so those who grieve can be embraced in the comfort of God’s love.
Despite all of this though there may be times when we might feel that we are not doing enough, that the task is too great but when those feelings threaten to overwhelm us, we need to step back and remember that all that we do is through God’s strength and grace and it is for his glory. We have to have faith and trust that he will guide us to do his will – we just need to listen to what he is speaking into our hearts. And it is that promise that sets us apart from the world. We are not just people trying to help our community. We are children of God, heirs to his kingdom, required to take the good news of Jesus out of this place and into those places where the light does not shine, where hope and trust have been replaced by despair and disbelief. So as we switch our lights on earlier each evening, as our heating clicks on and we enjoy the cosiness of our homes, let us take some time out to be thankful for the blessings in our lives and to reflect on Jesus’s exhortation to us that we should love those around us, regardless of their attitude to us and in doing so endeavour to treat everyone as we would wish them to treat us.
Jesus is the light of the world who came to overcome the darkness that threatens to envelope God’s creation so in the words of the Baptism liturgy let us shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.