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The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
As you may recall from your own reading of the four gospels, those verses from today’s gospel lesson recall Jesus’ words in ways which are unique to the gospel of Luke. The writer of the gospel of Matthew says that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But, the writer of the gospel of Luke says that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” and, “Blessed are you who are hungry.” Not “poor in spirit” or “hungry for righteousness,” as we find in Matthew; but poor as in economically, and hungry as in physically; an early indication in the gospel of Luke of the preferential concern Luke’s Jesus has for whoever is most poor, hungry, voiceless, powerless, left out and alone.
Something we see, over and over again, in the gospel of Luke, starting in chapter one, where Mary, the mother of our Lord, sings that the hungry are going to be filled, but the rich sent away empty; the lowly lifted, but the powerful brought low; a song sung only in Luke, followed, a few chapters later, by Jesus’ announcement in the synagogue that he has come to bring good news to the poor; also, only in Luke. Then, there is Jesus’ exhortation that, when we give a dinner, we should invite the poor; once again, of the four gospels, recorded only in Luke. And the parable of the once rich man who is tormented in flames, while once hungry Lazarus is at ease in Abraham’s arms; a story which appears, also, only in Luke; not to mention Zacchaeus, also, only in Luke, whom Jesus declared well on his way to salvation when Zacchaeus said, “Half of all I have I will give to the poor.”
And, then, there’s the story popularly known as the parable of the Good Samaritan, also, only in Luke, in which Jesus makes the marginalized stranger the beloved neighbor we need. And, of course, also, only in Luke, the most famous story Luke’s Jesus ever told; the parable of the prodigal son, the grace-filled father and the angry older brother; the point of which is that we should never be mad about any inclusion God is glad about, and never glad about any exclusion God is sad about.
Because Luke’s Jesus has such an unfailingly preferential concern for whoever is most poor, hungry, marginalized, ostracized, oppressed, left out, hurting and alone, every now and then, you will hear people call Luke’s Jesus “the radical Jesus.” But, Luke’s Jesus is actually the ordinary Jesus; the only Jesus there is.
Across the Christian centuries, we’ve created a more manageable Jesus than the one we find in Luke; a Christian Christ who is sort of a composite of what Luther and Calvin taught about what Anselm thought about what Augustine believed about what Paul said about Jesus; a Christ people need only to accept so they can become Christians; a way of thinking which has produced countless fine people and created the largest world religion on the planet, but which has created an option Luke’s Jesus might not have recognized; the option of a Christianity which gets us into heaven in the next life, but which requires no change in our economics, our politics, our public policy, what we say, do, laugh at, post, text, email and tweet in this life; a Christianity which, somewhere along the way, made being born again more about living with Jesus in the next life than living like Jesus in this life; a way of thinking which has produced many fine people and done much good in the world, but which is very different from Luke’s Jesus; a Jew who never mentioned starting a new world religion called Christianity, but who went about confronting injustice, calling people to lives of righteousness and truth, sitting down with and standing up for whoever was most hungry, poor, marginalized, overlooked, left out, sad, ashamed, and alone; and inviting all, who would, to join him in seeing all people as God sees all people.
That’s Luke’s Jesus; not a radical Jesus, just the ordinary Jesus. And, following Luke’s Jesus doesn’t make us radical Christians, either; just ordinary Christians who get up every morning and go through the day walking in the Holy Spirit; sitting down with and standing up for the same people Luke’s Jesus would sit down with and stand up for if Luke’s Jesus was here.
All of which is just ordinary, basic, cornbread and peas Christianity; the spirit of Luke’s Jesus, embodied in our kindness and courage, gentleness and compassion, integrity and truth.