Nicholas King SJ 6th Sunday of the Year
A mild evangelist who can be harsh
Jeremiah 17:5-8 1 Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20 Luke 6:17, 20-26. ST LUKE is a gentler evangelist than Matthew, and yet when he comes to speak of renunciation and poverty, there is a harshness which is missing in Matthew. We see this in today's gospel, which presents us with Luke's version of the Beatitudes, taken from his "Sermon on the Plain" (Matthew's version, the betterknown one, is of course set on a mountain).
Luke's version is much tougher, and its radical nature is emphasised both by its succinctness in comparison with Matthew ("happy are you poor", where the first evangelist has "happy are the poor in spirit") and Luke has only half the number of Beatitudes) and by the contrasting "woes" at the end of the passage.
These woes are very challenging indeed, for they seem to suggest that to be rich, or filled, or laughing, or of high repute in this life is to court certain disaster in the next life: if you are rich, you already have your comfort, if you are filled, you will go hungry, if you laugh now, you will mourn and weep, while those who are well spoken of are liable to be false prophets.
This fits well with Luke's abiding interest in poverty, the prominence he gives to "marginalised" characters like the shepherds, or Simeon and Anna, or indeed anyone who can count as down trodden and 0 ppresced.
Yet we i.,ay not evade the challenge of the gospel by saying to ourselves "Ah well, that's just Luke, bless his heart". For this is the unmistakable voice of Jesus Christ, whether in Matthew or in Luke, challenging us to go deeper into the mystery of love, which is inevitably the mystery of unselfishness and renunciation.
Jesus is a constant challenge to the values that the world holds dear; he meets them headon, and systematically turns them upside-down in order to show us values that .are genuine and authentic and that gives expression to our deepest humanity.
It really is a blessing to be poor for the sake of the kingdom, it really is better to lack this world's goods than to lack the things that matter, it really is better to have sorrow as the world knows it for the sake of the joy of acknowledging the fatherhood of God.
There really is something absolutely right about being reviled by those whose judgement is shallow and superficial; and here is a daring touch: for the word that I.uke employs in the command to rejoice, which the Jerusalem Bible translates as "dance for joy", is the same word that he uses for John the Baptist leaping in his mother's womb at the Spirit-filled encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, God, Luke tells us(and the accents are those of Jesus). actually prefers those "of low degree", those whom the world holds cheap, and it is on them that he showers his gifts in superabundance.