Feb. 13 2022 reflection
One of the things I love about being an Episcopalian is that it calls on you at least once a week to
use your discernment. Today’s Gospel is a great example.
Years ago, when I was asked to speak to classrooms about journalism, I was often asked how I
knew what was true, how did I know what I should report and what I shouldn’t. The answer is
that I had to try to cover the different points of view, within reason. I pointed out then that even
in the Bible, there are several versions of the same material that have inconsistencies. I think we
all know that people react to the same things in different ways. Police detectives know that “eye
witnesses” to the same event often report seeing very different things.
I always thought the Gospel reading today was an alternate, less-appealing version of the more
famous Beatitudes found in Mathew. Some authors believe they are not, that they are two
separate sermons: the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain. Others believe that both
accounts stem from a common source, a written document composed of sayings of Jesus, and
that Matthew embellished the texts somewhat.
Luke’s account of the sermon on the plain has four Beatitudes. The sermon on the Mount has
The ones that we don’t hear in the Sermon on the Plain are the blessedness of the meek, the
merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers. Instead, we get the four woes:
Woe to you who are rich, to you who are full, to you who laugh now, and to you when all men
speak well of you.
Earlier, in the passage from Jeremiah, we hear another beatitude: “Blessed are those who trust in
the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” And in the Psalm, we hear about the happiness of the
righteous and the doom that comes to the wicked.
This is about where I start to regret that I agreed to reflect on these particular readings. Some of
the authors I read said that both sets of beatitudes were especially intended for the apostles, who
had just been called from their normal lives to join Jesus. It must have struck home for them to
be told that the poor are blessed. Answering Christ’s call was going to cost them everything they
had once valued — home, careers, families, reputations and even their lives.
I like Mathew’s version best. Luke’s “woes” are a turn-off. I don’t necessarily want to be rich,
but I like being full and I like laughing and I like to be well thought of. Are these sins? Am I
As Steve Hitchcock pointed out to me, the concept of the beatitudes and the woes is a common
one in the New Testament — the Great Reversal. The first becomes last and the last becomes
first. All of us are last somewhere in our lives. God is there for us in those times as well as all
others. We may feel alone and abandoned, but we are not.
The same Jesus who feeds everyone so abundantly both physically and spiritually throughout the
Gospels, asks that we do our best to do the same. Jesus’ actions show that he wants everyone to
be fed, to be able to appreciate the bounteous gifts we receive from God. Someone who is poor
but doesn’t have the spirit of giving — even of just a smile — is poor indeed. Someone who is
rich and doesn’t have the spirit of giving, is even poorer. Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, in
memory of another generous. loving person inspired by Jesus. Christ’s example is to give and
give and give. None of us could ever be so generous, but we are called to try.