“The Sermon on the Plain”
Most of us have some familiarity with Jesus’ so-called “Sermon on the Mount” – not so much a sermon as a collection of teachings and sayings found in Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 5-7). It begins with the Beatitudes – a series of blessings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It continues with teachings about being the salt and light of the world, how to live a just and forgiving life, avoiding pride. It includes the Lord’s Prayer and other guidance on prayer. Much of Jesus’ moral teaching is found here. It is reminiscent of Moses’ great moral teaching on Mt. Sinai – the Ten Commandments.
But this Sunday’s Gospel is from Luke’s Gospel, which has a rough parallel to Matthew. Only in Luke, we are told that Jesus went to a level place to preach and teach, hence it’s called “The Sermon on the Plain.”
There are similarities with Matthew, but the tone is quite different, starting with the setting. Instead of Jesus being elevated above the crowds, he is on a level place, with all the crowds trying to touch him. This strikes me as an image for the equality Jesus preached – no one is high and mighty, above others. Jesus is among the people, caring for the least of them. This is a quality that pervades Luke.
And Luke’s version of the Beatitudes varies from Matthew’s in both language and tone: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Jesus speaks directly to people who are materially impoverished, not just “poor in spirit.” And Luke also includes some disturbing warnings not found in Matthew: “Woe to you who are rich….” This is the kind of Bible reading that makes us squirm…. JBM