[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 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.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 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. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.
Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.
The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.
The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.
Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.
That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.
This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.
It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.
This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.
Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.
Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.
And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.
God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.
But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.
This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.