6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus comes down the mountain with the Twelve and proceeds to teach them, as well as many other disciples and people in his famous “Sermon on the Plain.” As before, the crowds come not only to hear Jesus but also to be healed (Luke 5:15), both of diseases and unclean spirits (4: 40-41). Jesus’ touch communicates power by healing them all, as it did for the leper. (5:13).

Jesus has been teaching frequently, but only now does Luke present in an extended way the content of his teaching. The Sermon on the Plain can be divided into three parts: beatitudes and woes, commands on love and mercy, and teaching on the two ways. The disclosure has many parallels to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, though it is much shorter. Both begin with a set of beatitudes, but Luke’s list has only four and is immediately followed by a corresponding set of woes. Moreover, the context is rather different, with Luke’s sermon coming after having chosen the Twelve.

The Beatitudes are directed toward the disciples, providing instruction on what it means to follow Jesus. One can try to imagine the expectation of the disciples who had witnessed his healings and perhaps understood the symbolism of the Twelve. Jesus had already spoken about the kingdom of God (Luke. 4:43).

Blessed are you who are poor. Jesus’ first words are hardly those of one fomenting a rebellion. His words are nonetheless revolutionary as they involved a reversal of values regarding what constitutes true happiness. Indeed, the word “blessed” refers to those who are “happy” or “fortunate” in God’s sight. Some measure of economic poverty, not necessarily destitution, was a familiar reality for most people in Galilee at the time. The lack of material resources would typically lead the poor to greater reliance on God, (hence poor in spirit). These pious poor are those to whom Jesus comes to bring glad tidings.

Their closer relationship with God is what makes them blessed. True happiness does not come from possessing the kingdoms offered by the devil, but from the kingdom of God, which Jesus says is theirs at the present time. This kingdom belongs to disciples like Peter, James, John, and Levi, who leave “everything”—that is, who voluntarily become poor—to follow Jesus.

The beatitude is better understood by considering its opposite: woe to you who are rich. A “woe” is a warning of coming judgment. The one who finds consolation now in earthly riches typically does not rely on God. Thus, it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom, though with God it is possible. For example, among the early Christians, those with wealth came to the aid of those in need (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35).

The next two beatitudes further describe the poor and the happiness that will be theirs through their reliance on God. They include those who are now hungry, since Jesus promises that they will be satisfied. Jesus himself experienced hunger but resisted the devil’s temptation. Mary, who put her trust in God, expresses this beatitude in her Magnificat: “The hungry he has filled with good things.” In some cases, such as that of the poor Lazarus, “who longed to satisfy his hunger,” the promises are fulfilled in the afterlife. However, Jesus will provide a sign of this heavenly banquet by feeding the five thousand so that all are satisfied (:17).

The poor are also those who are now weeping on account of their difficult situation. This promise also looks to the future; they will laugh. Nevertheless, Jesus will again provide a present sign of the promise when he brings the weeping of the mourners to an end by raising their loved ones from the dead.

The second and third woes correspond to these two beatitudes. Those who are filled now and laugh now, but rely on themselves and live for themselves, will in their future be hungry, grieve and weep (see 12:15-21; 16:19-31).

This reversal was already announced in the Magnificat: “The rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).

The last beatitude concerns the persecution that Jesus’ disciples will experience from those who hate them because of the Son of Man (see 21:17). Jesus who has likened himself to a rejected prophet, similarly compares his disciples to the prophets who were mistreated. In response, they should rejoice because of the reward they will receive in heaven. The apostles will later fulfill this command: “They left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5;14). Others, like Stephen, will experience martyrdom and so win their heavenly rewards.

The corresponding woe warns that when all speak well of individuals, it is because, like the false prophets, they are not truly speaking God’s word, preferring “human praise to the glory of God” (John 12:43).

The Beatitudes reverse the world’s understanding of true happiness, showing that it is found not in riches, gratification, entertainment, and fame, but in God. Learning this lesson on discipleship requires faith, since the promises and rewards may not be experienced until the heavenly kingdom. It also requires charity, as those with economic means are exhorted to tend to the needs of the poor, the hungry, and the weeping.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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