Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Openness to the kingdom is required
The "poor of God" are those who acknowledge a need for salvation
February 10-11, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
How did the evangelists record Jesus' words?
Remember this was a very oral culture and preserving words and
ideas was important. They didn't write things down right away as
we do but told the stories. Jesus himself did not write these
thoughts down. A generation later writers began to put gospels
into written form. There might have been an early scroll but it
no longer exists except within the present gospels. Mark
probably was the first to write a gospel and Luke and Matthew
used his outline to develop their own. John's gospel follows a
unique form. As we saw last week Luke adapted Mark's story of
Jesus teaching along the Sea of Galilee and also John's post
Each evangelist used the various traditions of Jesus according to
the themes they were using as well as addressing the needs of the
specific church communities to whom they were writing. The story
of Jesus teaching the beatitudes is probably most familiar to us
in the form from Matthew's gospel. There it is part of the
Sermon on the Mount.
So we now hear Luke's version. Note that it is not on a mountain.
Luke wants to portray Jesus as close to the poor, and places the
event on a level plain. Luke's version is shorter and has four
woes as well. The woes seemed to be addressed to the rich, which
certainly could not mean Jesus' close disciples. Earlier in Luke
4:16-19, Jesus in his first sermon in Nazareth proclaims that
membership in the "poor of God" is not restricted to those who
might be considered the in group that is the powerful and
ritually clean. They, the poor are those who acknowledge a need
for salvation. It is an invitation for all to become the "poor of
God." So Luke in addressing a primarily Gentile Christian church
might be reminding those who are well to do that they too must be
part of the "poor of God." This means they must help those in
need and recognize that they too are in need of God's salvation.
Jesus' proclamation in the beatitudes does not mean a particular
social class is blessed. Openness to the kingdom is what is
required. Those who need to reform are reminded to do so in the
They are being challenged to recognize possessions, full
stomachs, and prestige are not long lasting. So Jesus is not
teaching that the rich are automatically excluded from the
kingdom but that they must recognize the need to share their
goods. They too may become part of the "poor of God." Jesus is
not teaching class warfare but what is expected to all who wish
to accept the kingdom of God.
On the other hand those who are economically impoverished and
oppressed by the upper social classes should know that God is
their protector. Jesus's words are like those of the prophets of
old who defended those who were routinely excluded from things.
Remember that Jesus had read from the prophet Isaiah when he was
in the synagogue in Nazareth that a new age was dawning and the
promise of a Jubilee time. Jesus had announced that this is what
he would do. Luke, therefore, in this sermon on the plain is
showing how Jesus was inaugurating the Kingdom of God. Luke is
saying that the Kingdom of God will turn things upside down. Luke
reminds his readers that they should heed this message.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)