“Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea”
Tissot directly integrated in this scene, one of the motifs from his extensive sketching campaigns in Palestine into a finished composition for the Gospel narrative. Here, a large boulder the artist had drawn by the Sea of Tiberias becomes the rock on which Jesus sits as He preaches to his followers.
Such direct correlations between the sketched motif and the Gospel narrative evoke Tissot’s claim for what he termed hyperaesthesia—a combination of direct observation of his surroundings and mystical revelation. In the introduction to his Bible, he claimed:
“It is in the Holy Land itself … that the mind is best attuned alike to receive and grasp the significance of every impression….
I felt that a certain receptivity was induced in my mind which so intensified my powers of intuition, that the scenes of the past rose up before my mental vision in a peculiar and striking manner….
I meditated on any special incident in its own particular sanctuary, and was thus brought into touch with the actual setting of every scene, the facts I was anxious to evoke were revealed to me”.
Luke 6: 17, 20-26
17“He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
20‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. ‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets‘”.
In last week’s Gospel we focused on trust in the Lord and learned that those who trust in God are ‘truly blessed’. It became clear that Jesus would go anywhere where men would listen to Him. And we see that same behaviour reflected here.
In this Gospel we hear Luke’ s version of the Beatitudes. Whereas Matthew has Nine Beatitudes, Luke has only Four but he also has corresponding woes. The Beatitudes are a charter of the Christian life. They are not a moral code or a set of minimal precepts to avoid God’s punishment. They are ideals to raise our perspective above the constraints of worldly interest.
This thread will continue into next week’s Gospel where Jesus tells us to be compassionate; not to judge nor condemn. The basic message being to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
The Beatitudes are somewhat difficult to comprehend in that they seem to tell us that we are blessed with poverty and the like, yet most people would find this somewhat of a contradiction. In fact, those whom Jesus calls blessed would appear to most people to be decidedly unhappy.
The Sermon on the Plain
Luke refers to Jesus as being on the ‘plain’ (level ground) and the Church of the Beatitudes really is on flat ground in the hills of Galilee. It is well away from the towns and cities and, as I recall from a visit in 2011, it is a most peaceful and serene place.
The ‘Sermon on the Plain’ in Luke corresponds to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the Gospel of Matthew. He stood where people had gathered to see him and gave his Sermon only after having cured those with ‘unclean spirits’.
Luke’s Sermon, however, is much shorter than Matthew’s and contains very little that is not in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. (Matthew’s is in fact the longest recorded Sermon by Jesus.)
Luke’s Gospel is very much focused on the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. For Luke, practical concerns such as caring for the poor and marginalised are central in the life of individual Christians and Church Communities. Many people at this time lacked the basic necessities – life was tenuous and hazardous. Women, especially the widowed were particularly vulnerable. As in many societies, then and now, minorities were often marginalised and actively persecuted at times.
Blessed are you who are poor
In this Gospel we hear that it is a blessing to be poor and hungry, but Jesus is not giving a blessing to starvation and misery. Starvation and misery are clearly evil. What is being blessed is a reliance on God. Those who put their trust in human things will be disappointed but those who put their trust in God will not. The rich tend to rely on their riches and often have spiritual poverty whereas the poor instinctively turn to God.
Mother Teresa is someone who not only embraced poverty but placed total reliance on the fact that each day God would provide for those she was caring for. In the early days she would often not know where she would get food from, but somehow the Lord did provide! The story of her life is inspirational.
Only God can satisfy the hunger of our hearts; so how unfortunate that God is often the last Person we turn to -when we are desperate.
In Luke’s Gospel, the poor and dispossessed are given hope – they are made to feel valued; something we all naturally want to feel. They are important and valued and loved and noticed. In a sense, here was a celebrity recognising and acknowledging them. How comforting for his listeners!
Much of Luke’s Gospel is relevant in today’s society. Homeless people often say it makes them feel far worse when people pass them on the street and pretend not to see them – don’t notice them. As if they don’t exist.
Justice is coming
And the woes seem to indicate justice: Justice is coming. All those having a fabulous time will pay a price in the future. Money is a massive driving force in our society. As Cardinal Newman said, “All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage”. To get it and the good life that comes with it, people are often –but not always– aggressive and ruthless, not caring about the impact their behaviour has on others.
This message can be very disconcerting for those living comfortable lives. However, the Parable of the Last Judgement does not condemn the rich, only those who have failed to help those in need. Perhaps then, Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ is there to comfort those not having an easy time and is just reminding the more comfortably off to notice the ‘have-nots’. It is something to point the well-off in the right direction. Nevertheless, a warning it is for those who do nothing about the existing inequalities in life.
There are many challenges in both versions of the Sermon. The whole concept of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” is hugely challenging. Tell that to a mother who has just lost a child!! It seems to dispense with sympathy and empathy. Perhaps total reliance on God in such a situation would be of some comfort. I really don’t know.
Jesus has been saying to his followers to go out into the world and teach all that he had commanded. The commands He gives us are a road-map to salvation; however, we cannot count on our strength to fulfil them: we do not live them out perfectly no matter how hard we try as we are weak and human. We have to realise that our only hope of salvation is the grace and mercy of God. We have to understand that we need that.
The most comforting line though in the Gospel of Luke, is that Jesus came down to the plain. This is most important for me as it tells of a God who comes down to where His people are. What more could we ask for?
Also of note, Jesus uses the word ‘you’, making reference to His Disciples. He is making his teachings personal. It is not something that refers to someone else; it is not put into the impersonal third person. It is specific to you! Interestingly, Matthew uses the third person ‘Blessed are they’. It seems not to be as personal as in the Gospel of Luke.
“Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked,
nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
but delights in the company of the Lord
and meditates on his law day and night.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
that yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes”.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
What burdens or circumstances in life grieve me?
What things in life bring me joy?
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
What reward do I seek from God?
What do I imagine heaven will be like?
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
When have I pursued others’ good opinion of me rather than what was right?
How do I treat those who speak uncomfortable truths?
How can I imagine feeling blessed if I was poor or hungry?
If I can think of reasons, does this make me reconsider my way of living now?
Should I think about adjustments to align more with my beliefs?
 Luke 6: 35: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”.  Matthew 5-7  Matthew 25: 31-46  Matthew 5:4