Jesus came down with the Twelve and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.
Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said:
‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
‘Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.
‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’Lk 6:17. 20-26
Luke’s Sermon on the Plain parallels with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Both begin with Beatitudes and encapsulate the high moral standards of the New Covenant.
The gathering of the great crowd of people from all parts of Judea, Jerusalem and from Tyre and Sidon highlights Jesus’ great popularity both inside and outside Israel, as well as prefiguring the mixed Jewish/Gentile composition of the future Church.
The announcement of who are happy and what rewards they will receive illustrates Christ’s call to interior holiness. Holiness was no longer to be measured through the fulfilment of certain external acts or rituals but rather through a purity of heart and practice of virtue. These virtues were contrary to those the world considered desirable. The spirit of Christ and of Christian service therefore is often contrary to the spirit of the world. This is why Christian discipleship is often described as presenting a counter-cultural message.
The Beatitudes are juxtaposed against the covenant curses, or woes. Jesus envisions the unjust conditions of the present life being overturned in the next, where the blessed can expect their present suffering to give way to future pace, and the prosperous can expect divine curses if wealth and notoriety have smothered their love of God and neighbour.
Those who receive God’s blessing will do so for their faith and adherence to his Law. In the context of the narrative, poor may denote material poverty but more especially spiritual poverty defined by inward detachment. Even the poor can be attached to the little they own and the wealthy can live in poverty of spirit.
According to St Ambrose (Commentary on Luke), Luke’s beatitudes reflect the four cardinal virtues. The poor display temperance as they shun the vain and excessive pleasures of the world. The hungry display justice as they share the plight of the lowly and give to those who have little. Those who weep exercise prudence as they lament the vanity of worldly things and look forward to what is eternal. Those hated by men exercise fortitude because they persevere when persecuted for the faith. Matthew, in his expression of the Beatitudes, describes those who live out the virtues as being “Blessed“ or deeply happy and he reminds us that for those live out the beatitudes “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mat 5:12).
Director, Mission & Identity