Old Testament: Jeremiah (17:5-10)
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.”
The Response: Psalm 1
1 Happy are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves
that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright
when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (15:12-20)
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
The Gospel: Luke (6:17-26)
Jesus came down with the twelve apostles, 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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 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. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
The version of the Beatitudes that we just heard might sound a bit strange to us. These “wisdom sayings” do not appear at all in the gospels according to Mark or John; and we are much more accustomed to hearing Matthew’s version than Luke’s.
For one thing, Luke has no “Sermon on the Mount” like Matthew has. Jesus has already been up on a mountain: to pray and to select the twelve apostles. Now he has come down from the mountain to a level place to be with his disciples and the rest of the people and to give, what is sometimes called, his “Sermon on the Plain.”
Matthew’s form gives nine Beatitudes with no corresponding “woes”; Luke’s is symmetrical, with four of each. And Matthew’s tries to “spiritualize” them. His version says, for example, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”; while Luke says simply, “Blessed are you who are poor.” Matthew has “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”; Luke, “Blessed are you who are hungry” – no watering down, no sugar-coating here!
There are at least two key messages that Luke’s form of these sayings has to offer us.
First of all, they give a message of hope for those who are lacking food and other necessities of life, for those who are suffering in any way. This brief passage is yet another example of Luke’s overall theme of God’s work of reversal in the world: a theme that continues throughout both of Luke’s volumes, both Luke and Acts. It is one that is central, for example, in the “Song of Mary” or “Magnificat” in the first chapter of the gospel (1:52-53):
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
In Jesus, God has made a dramatic new beginning. God has initiated God’s dominion or kingdom in the world. That kingdom turns everything upside-down. And that dominion or kingdom is, even now, in the process of becoming a reality. That is the most powerful reason for hope that we can have, because God is making it happen.
But the second message that Luke’s form of the Beatitudes presents to us clarifies the way that that dominion or kingdom is becoming and will become a reality in the world. Notice that the first of these sayings doesn’t just promise that those who poor will receive relief and will possess God’s kingdom someday, in another life. The verb used is in the present: “Blessed are you who are poor; for yours is the kingdom of God.” The kingdom is not just something for the future, for life after death. The kingdom is now. But where are the changes in the world, the relief of the poor, the hungry, etc. supposed to come from now?
Luke gives at least a hint as he begins this passage. As I mentioned, the story starts with Jesus coming down from a mountain to a level place after he has chosen the twelve apostles. He soon will give those apostles a commission to go out and do the work of the kingdom. Shortly afterward, he will give that same commission to another 72 disciples. It quickly becomes obvious where he is going with this. The work of building up the kingdom is expanding and diversifying and including more and more people. Before long, it will include all of Jesus’ followers.
God is not miraculously going to reverse people’s fortunes and change the world for us. The mission of making the promises of the Beatitudes a reality is the responsibility of all of Jesus’ followers. As Fred Craddock has pointed out (Luke, p. 88): “The ‘today’ that Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth still prevails; the Messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 61:1-2) concerning the poor, the imprisoned, the diseased, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus. The church in Luke’s second volume so understood it, as Acts amply testifies.” And we, together with all of Jesus’ followers today, need to recognize that fact as well, for this is God’s agenda for us in life.
But how can we possibly do that? Even with God’s help, our resources and our efforts seem so inadequate to the enormity of the task.
This May will mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of folk singer and civil rights activist Pete Seeger. In reflecting on the great challenges that faced people during the Civil Rights movement and that face people in every age, Pete Seeger once offered this image, as it is related in Studs Terkel’s book, Hope Dies Last:
“Seeger’s image of these small endeavors is that of a seesaw with one end held down to the ground by a basket of rocks. At the other end are the advocates and activists, armed only with teaspoons, slowly using them to fill a basket with sand in an effort to tip the balance for the good. People scoff at the effort to move the rocks but, one day, the critical grain of sand will suddenly send those rocks flying up in the sky. And people will ask, says Seeger, ‘How did that happen so quickly?’ Well, he replies, it’s us and our damned teaspoons.”
Jesus speaks today to the poor, to the hungry, to those in need, to those neglected and rejected by society, just as he spoke long ago to those facing those same afflictions in his time: “Yours is the kingdom of heaven.” And when they ask him how that reversal is going to take place, how God is going to care for them and change their lives, Jesus points to us. “These people, those who have committed themselves to following me, they are going to do it. They are going to care for you and bring new life to you. They are going to make God’s kingdom, God’s dominion, a reality in your lives and in the world.”
It seems like, and is, a formidable task. But God has promised that, together, we can do it. And God is faithful.
So, what are you going to do with your teaspoon this week?