two small, clear bottles - one filled with light green liquid and corked, one empty on its side, on a wooden table

Fullness and Emptiness

Just as we did for Advent, we will be posting a series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday’s sermon scripture during this season of Epiphany. You may use these devotions as you want – for yourself, with a group or as a family; all at once, or broken up throughout the week. We suggest you start with the Scripture readings before you engage the other pieces. Enjoy!

Scripture

Luke 6:17-26

Reflection

This passage in Luke is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, because it starts out with Jesus coming down to a level place, the plain, and talking to the people. However, Jesus is quite plain in his language as well. This sermon is contrasted to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew in more than geographical location. Here, Jesus speaks of everyday issues in the lives of those listening to him – they are poor, they are hungry, they are mourning, they are not respected or included. He says these things will not last forever, and so they are blessed.

The beatitudes, or blessings, in this sermon are similar in structure, but quite different in sentiment from the beatitudes found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7). In Matthew, Jesus speaks of being poor in spirit, rather than poor in resources. He speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, rather than food and drink. Also, Matthew’s sermon does not name the opposing woes to these blessings, whereas Luke’s sermon has Jesus naming that wealth, full bellies and laughter are also not forever, and will change in the future. In Luke, Jesus seems more concerned about the physical and mental state of the people before him, whereas in Matthew, he seems more concerned about their spiritual state.

Now, this is not to say that one of these sermons happened while the other one did not. Jesus preached a lot. A lot. All over Judea and Samaria, around Galilee, up into the hills, and down around the towns near Jerusalem. It is entirely likely that Jesus would have used similar word and phrasing structures for different sermons, as it is likely that Jesus would have addressed all the needs of his listeners – sometimes physical or mental, sometimes spiritual, and sometimes both at the same time. What is common between these sermons, beyond sentence structure, is the naming of blessing in the lives of people who may not see that blessing each day in their very real struggles.

Jesus does not ignore the real struggles and problems of the people he meets. He heals both bodies and souls as he travels. He questions the ways authorities and structures have created many of these problems and how we might entirely change how we think about authority and the structures we have created. He names the fact that those with more resources, more power and less challenges do not think things need to change because their lives are going pretty well…for the moment.

Luke and Matthew are like each of us – focusing on particular words of Jesus that strike them as important both for their own lives and to share with others. We do the same thing when we read scripture. And, that’s a great reason to read scripture again and again. At different points in our lives we might be more drawn to Jesus’ words on the plain or on the mountain. We may have a favorite of these two sermons, but the other speaks to us in specific moments.

Jesus spoke to many different types of people in many different ways with many different words. We are blessed to be able to have such a rich collection of stories, sermons, prayers, conversations and works to learn from and grow with. We are blessed that we have different perspectives on Jesus’ life because we are not all the same, just as Jesus’ disciples and the gospel writers were not the same. And, when we are reading scripture regularly, we can easily compare and contrast the different versions and put them in conversation with each other. It helps us feel like we are sitting at Jesus’ feet, just another one of the disciples.

Questions

  1. Which of these sermons/set of blessings are you more drawn to? Why?
  2. Out of the list of Luke’s beatitudes, which one jumps out to you or speaks to you the most? Why?
  3. Why do you think Luke focused on the poor/rich, hungry/filled, weeping/laughing and whether people speak ill/well of you?
  4. What do you think the blessings are in being poor, hungry, weeping and hated? What are the woes of being rich, not hungry, laughing and well-liked?

Prayer

Gracious God, you shower us with blessings, even when we cannot see them. Open our eyes to the blessing in our lives, and the woes. Help us bless others who are struggling to see You each day. Make us a people wo do not take our blessings for granted. In the name of Jesus, who shows us how to see and live, Amen.

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