Weekly Gospel Reflection—03 November 2013
Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:
“Happy are you who are poor,
because God’s kingdom is yours.
Happy are you who hunger now,
because you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
“Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.
“But how terrible for you who are rich,
because you have already received your comfort.
How terrible for you who have plenty now,
because you will be hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now,
because you will mourn and weep.
How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
“But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.”
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day in a lot of Western Churches (though some celebrate on 01 November). In the early centuries, however, this feast was celebrated during the Easter season. The Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, still celebrate it then. It’s the day we honor “all of the Saints, all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives” (from GOARCH.org).
Another difference is the Gospel reading for the day. I quoted the reading from the Revised Common Lectionary used by several denominations in the US, Canada, the UK, etc. The Roman Catholic church’s reading is Matthew 5.1-12. And the reading in the Eastern Orthodox church is Matthew 10:32-33; 37-38; 19:27-30. The reading from the RCL and the Catholic Mass are similar in that encompass what’s been called “The Beatitudes.” And while the passages from the Eastern Orthodox are different, they do touch upon a similar theme—one of the costs of following Jesus and what’s expected. Before we get to the above passage, though, I want to touch upon something the Lectionary left out, i.e., the calling of the twelve.
Suppose you arrived at a local park that had several basketball courts. You wander around watching the different games being played—taking note of the people and their interpretations of the rules. Finally, you start selecting a group of twelve people. You then take those people over to another court and start teaching them some new things to do and some not to do. Now those on the other courts wouldn’t need to be told what was happening; it was pretty easy to figure out. You were creating a new team. This one, though, would be based on your way of seeing the rules.
The same thing happened in the verses 12-16 of Luke 6. Jesus picked out twelve of his disciples and set them aside for something different. Others would have figured out what was happening—Jesus was revisioning a new people around himself. This would have echoed back to the time when Yahweh called the twelve sons of Jacob and they became the twelve tribes of Israel. And, like then, Jesus gave a new “law”—a list of basic instructions for how this new way of being was to move forward. This, too, is an echo from the history of Israel (see Deuteronomy 28).
Jesus had already stated that he was birthing G_d’s promised Realm and it will turn things upside down, or, perhaps, right side up! And the people who are currently in power, aren’t going to like that. Not one bit. That’s why, along with the “blessings” in the passage above, there are also warnings. When G_d’s Realm is growing and expanding in our realm, there will be conflicts. People in power won’t want to change the way they do things. But here’s the secret...G_d’s Realm has come and it’s expanding whether others like it or not; whether others want to believe it or not.
And because of that, people who follow Jesus will need to know what’s expected of them. This is where the readings from the Orthodox church come in to play. There, Jesus told the disciples they’ll need to put the expansion of G_d’s Realm above everything and everyone else. That is, implementing G_d’s Realm through non-violent resistance is the method of bringing G_d’s justice and peace to bear in all corners of the globe. The question Jesus asks of us is, Are we willing to hear? Notice the beginning of the last paragraph from today’s lesson, “But I say to you who are willing to hear...” Are we willing?
As we remember those who have gone before us on this All Saints’ Day, can we say that they were willing to hear? That they loved their enemies? That they did good to those who hated them? And so on? Probably not. Some of them slipped and fell. Some of them acted in ways that were a false representation of Jesus and the Realm of G_d. But what all of them have in common is that they were following Jesus the best way they could. That’s why I like reading about their lives. When I read about them, I remember first and foremost that they’re human—people like you and me—who sometimes struggled and failed at other times glided and succeeded. When I read those stories, they give me hope. Hope that the things Jesus mentioned above are do-able. That others have done them and so can we.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC