Skip to content

Luke 6:20-31

November 6, 2022

At All Saints this community remembers people we have loved and who have died. We take time to name them, and everyone is welcome to add as many names as they wish. It pleases me that we don’t set limits, such as “only family” or “only people who have died in the last year.” We get to practice a kind of reckless inclusivity in who we have loved and wish to remember.

In a similar way, Paul calls everyone in the Christian communities to which he writes, “saints”. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” And we know that these communities were far from perfect, or Paul would not have felt the need to write so many letters setting them straight. And yet, they are saints.

“Far from perfect” would describe most of us here, I think. Not because we’re particularly flawed, but because we are human. We can look at our lives and our relationships and see where we fall short. It’s pretty easy to see the patterns of what Francis Spufford calls “the human propensity to [mess] things up.”[1]

So the teaching that Jesus gives to everybody who would listen—and it’s a lot of people at this point in his ministry—seems to be setting the bar pretty high. Blessed are the hungry, those who weep, the hated. Woe to the rich, those who are full, those who laugh.

It makes all the difference to understanding this teaching if we remember that Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is among us (17:21). This kingdom, this time of justice and peace, of abundance and love, is right now, says Jesus. He also talks as if it’s coming later, as he does in this passage (for surely your reward is great in heaven, v. 23). The kingdom, for Christians, is always both/and. It is now and later.

If we understand that the kingdom is now, then those who are hungry and hopeless can rejoice right now, for they will eat and laugh right now. The Greek word that is translated “blessed” can more accurately be translated as “unburdened or satisfied.”[2] Those who are poor will be unburdened, now.

But to those who are rich, “yikes” or “look out”. If you are rich and full, and people speak well of you, it is because you are benefitting from a corrupt system. You are putting your trust in the wrong place.

But you can change. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Offer the other cheek, give your shirt to the one who takes your coat. And if someone takes your stuff, don’t ask for it back.

This is how Francis Spufford sums up Jesus’ teaching:

“When the crowds gather, he sits them down in the sheep pasture, and he says: behave as if you never had to be afraid of consequences. Behave as if nothing you gave away could ever make you poorer, because you can never run out of what you give. Behave as if this one day we’re in now were the whole of time, and you didn’t have to hold anything back, or to plot and scheme about tomorrow. Don’t try to grip your life with tight, anxious hands. Unclench those fingers. Let it go. If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush: it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God Himself, who makes and makes, and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, [God] wants your reckless generosity. Try to keep what you have, and you’ll lose even that. Give it away, and you’ll get back more than you bargain for; more than bargaining could ever get you.”[3]

And a few pages later:

“[Jesus] wants our love to do more than run around the tight circle of our self-interest; more, even, than that it should run around the wider circle of our altruism, if altruism means we get round-about payback for our love in the end. God, he says, wants us to love wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love people we don’t even like; people we hate; people who hate us.”[4]

Thanks, Jesus, but I don’t think that I can quite manage that.

I can’t quite manage that, and I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb to suggest that none of us can manage it. Because this is how God loves, this reckless love, this wild generosity. As Spufford says, “How can an unlimited love be applied in a world full of limits?”

Today we are remembering the people we loved and still love, and who loved us. They did not love perfectly; sometimes they did not love as well as we wished. Yet we remember them and even go so far as to call them saints.

No, we can’t ever succeed. But we can try; we can practice this extravagant way of living, and in simply trying there is a lot of loving going on. Enough to satisfy the hungry and unburden the hated. Enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

 

[1] Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Croydon: Faber and Faber. 2013

[2] Matt Skinner, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/all-saints-day-2/commentary-on-luke-620-31-4

[3] Spufford, Unapologetic, pp. 115-116.

[4] Spufford, Unapologetic, pp. 123.