When we think of the Beatitudes, our minds generally go to Matthew’s description of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount not to Luke’s description of the Sermon on the Plain. I have no idea if these were two distinct sermons that Jesus preached and someone took notes or if more likely they are illustrations of the kinds of things Jesus often said when he was preaching and both Matthew and Luke gathered them up in a single sermon as a literary device, each choosing and organizing the sayings to fit the story they were trying to tell and describe Jesus as they understood him.
We know the authors of Matthew and Luke were writing to different audiences and with different purposes. The author of Matthew is a Jew, writing primarily to Jews, for the purpose of identifying Jesus as the one like Moses, the promised heir of David. He is also writing as a critique of the teaching of the Pharisees. Matthew says “blessed are the poor in spirit.” He is focused on the spiritual aspects of the lives of his audience.
The Gospel of Luke is attributed to a gentile physician that traveled with the apostle Paul. He is writing a history of sorts, not for academic purposes, but for the purpose of enlightening a gentile audience to the person of Jesus, and in the book of Acts, the immediate results of Jesus’ life upon this group that call themselves followers of The Way and will later be known as Christians. Luke is talking about a lifestyle based upon the experience of people who knew and followed Jesus and whose lives were forever changed because of him.
Luke begins, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Jesus had a special place in his heart for the materially poor and they for him. Jesus recognized that money is easily turned into a god. In the story of the rich young man which shows up in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31, Luke 18:18–30) the young man knew and followed the teaching of Moses, and Jesus is said to have “loved him” and invited him to follow him, but with one caveat, he must be willing to sell all his riches and give the money to the poor. The young man couldn’t bring himself to do it, and walked away. Those who have nothing, may be looked down upon by society, but they find it easier to give everything over to God. They are accustomed to doing without and lack the fear of deprivation that afflicts many people who are accustomed to a different life style. Luke’s woe to those who are rich “for you have received your consolidation” addresses both the question of how one obtained their riches and what sort of priority those riches have in their lives. Jesus says, “you cannot serve two masters” – God and money (Matt 6:24, Luke 16:13). One will always take priority over the other.
Matthew says, “Blessed are those who hunger after righteousness” but Luke just says, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” In the feeding of the five thousand, and the four thousand, Jesus was addressing real physical hunger. He comments several times that what we should seek is the “bread of life” or the “living waters,” but our physical needs are also a concern of God. Food shortage was a serious concern in Jesus’ day. Most of us have never known real hunger, and here in the United States, we have seldom seen the grocery stores completely depleted. Lately they might not have what we want but there is something there. Food shortages in our world are normally due to lack of income to purchase food or lack of means to prepare food. Our feeding ministries are important to assist those who have fallen on hard times for any number of reasons.
Matthew says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for you will be comforted” but Luke says “Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh.” I love this image. This is truly the world turned upside down image that Jesus so often describes. Not that someone will put their arm around your shoulder while you weep, but that the cause of your weeping will be replaced with joy that brings laughter. The woe here should remind us not to laugh at others. I don’t think God has any objection to laughter or that Christians should go around with a dower look on their faces, but we should never laugh at the expense of others. I have always hated “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and other shows that encourage us to laugh at others misfortune and pain.
Both Matthew and Luke both say “Blessed are you when people hate you… on account of the Son of Man.” Jesus never told his followers that walking in his footsteps would be easy. He reminded people that he was basically homeless. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt 8: 20, Luke 9:58) Other than his forty days in the wilderness after his baptism, we have no way of knowing how often he slept under the stars, or started his day without breakfast. It appears that for the most part he stayed with Peter in Capernaum, Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany, and in the home of others all along his journeys, but this is also what he called his disciples to do. Stay in homes where they were welcomed, eat what is put before you. When we look out for the needs of one another, no one needs to suffer from want, but that does require that we be aware of the needs of each other and willing to share whatever we have. It means that when we are offered hospitality, we should be grateful and not fussy or complain.
The woe that comes with this one is a particularly challenging one. “Woe to you when all speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26). I don’t think this is intended to encourage us to be difficult and disagreeable, but we need to make sure we are not putting the praise of humans above our service and duty to God. There is a fine line between what Paul calls being all things to all people so that by all means possible I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:19-23) and compromising your beliefs to avoid conflict or gain praise.
The tricky part to this is deciding what is essential that one must never compromise on and what is just our preference that can easily be accommodated to make others feel welcome, safe, or prevent them from stumbling. I can’t make those choices for you. We can look at the lives of early Christians and see what they were willing to die for and where they considered it a matter of choice in a given circumstance. Refusing to worship idols or deny Jesus or refusing to stop telling other people about Jesus seems to be the place where many people drew the line. During WWII we saw people refuse to cooperate with the Nazi government in the oppression and killing of their neighbors. It is a question to ponder. What things for you are inviolable?
There is certainly a place in our lives for the Beatitudes as Matthew describes them, focusing on the state of our soul and our spiritual lives, but I think we also must make room for the Beatitudes of Luke that remind us of the importance of our physical lives and our interactions with those around us right here right now.