The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 9, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"


Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 resurrection story.

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 woes.

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.)



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