RICH AND POOR Luke 6:17-26

A communion meditation on the Gospel at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Kingston, Ontario, February 11, 2001

by Robert Brow (

Jesus explained about the Kingdom of Heaven on many occasions and in many different situations. One collection of his teachings is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7). In our reading today we have the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17). Again the teaching is about the Kingdom of Heaven, but here it is arranged under three contrasts: poor people and rich people, hungry people as opposed to satisfied people, and weeping people in contrast to laughing people.

But what on earth is so good about being poor? Or about being hungry? Or crying your eyes out? Obviously these contrasts can't be literal. As in so much of his teaching, Jesus is using strong metaphors. When he said "I am the Bread of Life." You don't take that literally and ask about the baker, or what grain the bread is made from. But you try to get the meaning of feeding on him and being nourished. When he said "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away" (Matthew 5:29) you know he is using strong metaphorical language about temptation, not about amputating your hand.

What then is the blessing of being poor, hungry, and weeping? In each case we have a description of people who sense their need. The poor know they could do with warm clothes and a shelter for the night. The contrast is rich people who imagine that money solves every problem. They can immediately get what they want with their credit card. So they don't need to look to God. They have it all. That is why rich people are often so restless and miserable. If you talk to people who won the lottery a couple of years ago, very few of them are contented and happy.

Similarly a hungry person has a gnawing sense of emptiness in his stomach. He knows "I need food." But a person who is well fed isn't looking for anything to eat. So Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger, the hunger of a heart that senses a need for spiritual food. That is why we come to church to be fed, and we read the Bible to feed on the Bread of Life. But people who are satisfied with what the world has to offer never feel hungry for God.

And if you see someone crying, you know he or she is sensing a need. Little children cry when they are scared or lonely or in pain or just needing to be cuddled. , and they look to their parents to come and be with them. "Blessed are you that weep now" does not mean that God wants us to be unhappy crying all day. But he loves to bless us when we run to him like little children crying for the love of their parents. Some of you parents will remember how your teenage children suddenly didn't want your love any more. You felt it when all they cared about was falling in love, and the love of their friends. And God the Father feels it when like teenagers we no longer cry out to him for his kind of love.

But what did Jesus mean when he said "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). It certainly does not mean that happy laughter is bad. I love jokes, and telling jokes, so I would be in big trouble. The Bible says that "a merry heart does good like a medicine." But there is plenty of bad laughter around. On a school playground you can see mean kids laughing and mocking an unfortunate child. "Mary is retarded. Mary is retarded." Some people laugh and sneer at everything good and beautiful. There used to be a practice of hazing new recruits in a regiment, or freshmen in college, and that was done by humiliating and making fools of them. When you are laughing at poor people, and mocking immigrants, and despising simple-minded people, you are not crying out to God for the wisdom of the Spirit to care for them and love them.

So you can see that the sermon on the plain is using three strong metaphors to show us the blessing of feeling our need for God. Instead of relying on money to solve our problems, we feel spiritually poor and look to God to meet our heart needs. Instead of being filled with the empty loving that the world offers us, we run like a little child to the love of God who is more loving than the most loving parents in the world.. And instead of mocking and sneering and laughing at others, we cry out for the wisdom that comes down from on high.

"Blessed are you who are poor for yours in the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. And blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." At first sight the words sound very paradoxical, but they make us think about the threefold blessing that Jesus wants us to enjoy.

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