The Gospel reading this week-end is taken from what is known as St. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. In the previous chapter Luke describes Jesus’ debate about the Sabbath with his disciples and then reveals the mission of the twelve. As happens so often, Jesus had departed to a mountain to pray, and when he descended the mountain he called the disciples to himself and from them he chose the Twelve whom he named apostles. As usual a great crowd came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground and everyone in the crowd had sought Jesus because power had come from him and he had healed all who were afflicted. Luke always prefers to have Jesus address the crowds on level ground and he also seems to be addressing the concrete economic and social problems that the communities are experiencing.
Both Luke and Matthew had access to similar material, but Matthew presented his Sermon on the Mount to fit his Jewish audience better while Luke presented his for a mostly gentile audience. The sermon begins with a series of beatitudes. Commentators often point out that the first beatitude, with which we are all familiar, begins "Blessed are you who are poor, though Matthew has "poor in spirit." Luke makes it more concrete by addressing the people who are economically poor and follows it by references to the hungry, the weeping, those who are hated and suffer evil on account of the Son of Man.
All of the beatitudes are about reversal of fortunes and there is a diminishing of what is blessed because of what it leads to, happiness and good fortune in the Kingdom of God. The passage concludes with a series of woes which Luke seems to be addressing to those who are prospering, especially who are doing so at the expense of the poor. Luke warns that their luxury is only temporary and they will end up in worse shape than the poor and the oppressed.
As you read Luke’s gospel you will note that he is passionate about God’s care for the poor and the marginalized And his final woe is directed at who, when people speak well of them, should take care since their ancestors treated the false prophets in the way he has just described.
Fr. John R. Mulvehill