Are the poor and hungry really blessed?
Mary Copping, 17 February 2019
1 Corinthians 15: 12–20, Luke 6: 17–26
Whenever Jesus described the kingdom of God it was not as we’d expect a kingdom to be, and not the way that the Pharisees and others were expecting then either. The kingdom was not coming with spectacle or splendour; there would be no great and magnificent leader who would overcome the Romans. This is what they’d been expecting when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. But they were disappointed. He described the kingdom rather as a mustard seed growing into a big plant, or yeast working through a batch of dough – as something that was quiet and humble, not something loud and showy.
And this upside-down way of looking at things is what Jesus continues in our reading from Luke, as he describes the people of his kingdom in these blessings: that the poor are blessed and theirs is the kingdom now; the hungry will be filled; and those who mourn will be happy. These words are similar to the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel. But Matthew gives them a more spiritual emphasis, with Jesus saying, ‘Blessed are those who are poor in spirit’ and ‘Blessed are the meek’ in what is often described as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Here in Luke’s version we have Jesus being very real about people’s needs. He comes down with his disciples to the people, to a level space, and so this is described as the ‘Sermon on the Plain’.
One can imagine the noise as Jesus came down with his 12 disciples, who he’d just called from their work to follow him. In the crowds were followers of Jesus, and also many others from a huge area around, where Jesus’ miracle-working power and teaching had been seen and heard. People wanted to know more and they were jostling to touch Jesus and to be healed. I think many of us would also have been jostling to reach this man who had such a powerful ministry and such charisma. How did he quieten the crowds before he spoke, especially being on this plain, not on the hill? One can only think that he had great authority and presence, and people wanted to hear him. You can almost imagine the people hushing each other – shh, be quiet, we want to hear what this man has to say.
But as he preached, what would people have been thinking? The disciples who’d given up everything for him: what sort of man are we following who talks about the poor being blessed, those who are hungry being filled, those mourning going to be happy? Definitely an upside-down way of looking at things. Is this the man we’ve given up everything to follow?
And today also, Christianity doesn’t make any sense to our world which values self-sufficiency, independence, getting what we want and blaming others if things go wrong. People often see our faith as just a crutch: you’re weak and you need it; we don’t – you’re imagining things and you need to get real. Yet we know that our faith in God can somehow sustain us in trouble and strengthen us in our weakness.
And this is God’s kingdom now: not just a promise for the future, but already breaking into our present, in our lives and in the lives of others.
Jesus said of the poor that the kingdom of God is theirs now. As you may know, there is a group of people from the Vineyard Church who go out every Saturday night, taking trolleys filled with soups, sandwiches and hot drinks, and very occasionally I go out with them. It has been a privileged experience – not one of ‘helping these poor homeless people’ but one of learning from them, being amazed at their fighting spirit and their openness to us, with them knowing that we are Christians. And when a man sitting in a doorway says to us, ‘God bless you’, it feels a real privilege to receive this special blessing. You see in these people you meet that theirs is the kingdom of heaven – they have nothing but, spiritually, seem to have so much. Of course they suffer a lot, but they do have such a different way of looking at things when all is stripped away and they have the barest of essentials. They are open to spiritual things. Here is God’s kingdom, breaking into the present.
When people have many material things, often God is not apparently needed in their lives – ‘we’re getting on quite well without you’. Only when things get really tough do we sometimes turn to God in desperation.
The blessing of the poor is for now, theirs is the kingdom now, whereas Jesus says in Luke that the blessing of the hungry and those who mourn is to come in the future fulfilment of the kingdom.
There are many hungry around the world – so many we cannot help them all. But of course we can and do help in terms of prayer, giving and helping at food banks, etc. Let us continue to help God’s kingdom break into the present.
Let us continue to help God’s kingdom break into the present.
Those who mourn, Jesus says, will be blessed, will laugh. Theirs is joy in heaven. But here on earth this does not give comfort to those who mourn now. When my husband died over three years ago, this promise of happiness for the future could not help me for the present. And yet God was still there, though frequently I didn’t feel him. But he often brought people to help me and comfort me when I needed it most, as he does for all of us. We also can be that comfort to others. Those who mourn will have their complete happiness in the new kingdom, but we as God’s people know his presence as we mourn, and can bring his comfort to others who mourn.
Jesus promises a perfect kingdom where all will have enough, will be comforted and happy. But we live in the now and the not yet – in the partial kingdom of God – and ours is to bring in the kingdom wherever God leads us, bringing hope to the poor, food to the hungry and comfort to those who mourn. Those who take soup and food to people on the streets every Saturday night feel that God has called them to do this, and in it God gives them great blessing and satisfaction.
People here in this church are doing many different things that they feel God has called them to do. I wonder what more God is calling each of us to, to bring in his kingdom of love, joy and peace to the poor, to those who are hungry, to those who mourn – to enable God’s kingdom to break into our present situations.
Jesus came to give us life and life in all its fullness. We who know him and love him and can worship him in this place can bring this fullness of life – his kingdom – to others, wherever God may lead. Amen.