Jesus’ Upside Down World

July 19th, 2021 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »

What is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:1–7:29) is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:20–49). What we call in Matthew the Eight Beatitudes, we call in Luke the Blessings and Woes (four of each). Today we will look at the four blessings.

Blessed are you who are poor, for the reign of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One. (Luke 6:20–22)

In this chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has just chosen his twelve disciples on the mountain. These are the very first words recorded that he says to them and to the great crowd that gathered, so they must be important. I think he’s describing what the world would look like if people really followed him. He’s giving us an upside-down version of reality that turns middle-class morality on its head.

Blessed are you who are poor.

What a strange thing to say! Does anyone really think today that the poor are blessed? I don’t think so. Most of us are enthralled by capitalism and think it is the rich who are blessed. We have even turned the Gospel into a “prosperity” message—that if we have enough faith, God rewards us with financial success. That sure doesn’t sound like what Jesus is saying here! Scholars teach that Luke was talking to a poor community, and so in this passage Jesus is affirming the poor directly. He doesn’t soften things like Matthew does for his more well-off community by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Blessed are you who are now hungry.

Jesus seems to be teaching that we need to choose at least a bit of dissatisfaction—which is the human situation anyway—so that we long for God. God alone is the One who will finally satisfy us.

Blessed are you who weep now.

Weeping doesn’t sound like a very positive thing, but people who have gone through major grief often tend to be more compassionate, more forgiving and understanding. Somehow, grief softens the heart.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One.

Talk about an upside-down universe! I’m not happy when people hate me—and some people do hate me. Jesus is saying that we have to find our happiness somewhere other than in people’s opinions about us. If we don’t, it’s just up and down, constantly assessing, who likes me today? If we want to build our life on a solid foundation, we need to base it on God who loves us unconditionally, constantly, and without exception. Then we don’t go up and down. We know who we are now and forever.

An Alternative Way to Live

I am told that the Sermon on the Mount—the essence of Jesus’ teaching—is the least quoted Scripture in official Catholic Church documents. We must be honest and admit that most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing: healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.

I’m grateful that my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Likewise, Francis’ followers, especially in the beginning, tried to imitate Francis. Like the Quakers, Shakers, Amish, Mennonites, and the Catholic Worker Movement, Franciscanism offers a simple return to the Gospel as an alternative lifestyle more than an orthodox belief system. The Sermon on the Mount was not just words for these groups! They focused on including the outsider, preferring the bottom to the top, a commitment to nonviolence, and choosing social poverty and divine union over any private perfection or sense of moral superiority.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount [1], Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words and live the teachings, instead of only believing things about God:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined (Matthew 7:24–27; my emphasis).

Dorothy Day (1897–1980), one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, understood the Sermon on the Mount as the foundational plan for following Jesus: “Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.” [2] She observed that “we are trying to lead a good life. We are trying to talk about and write about the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the social principles of the church, and it is most astounding, the things that happen when you start trying to live this way. To perform the works of mercy becomes a dangerous practice.” [3]

That’s because Jesus was teaching an alternative wisdom that shakes the social order instead of upholding the conventional wisdom that maintains it. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not about preserving the status quo! It’s about living here on earth as if the Reign of God has already begun (see Luke 17:21). In this Reign, the Sermon tells us, the poor are blessed, the hungry are filled, the grieving are filled with joy, and enemies are loved.


July 19,2021

BRING ME ALL YOUR FEELINGS, even the ones you wish you didn’t have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly. Use your shield of faith to extinguish those flaming arrows. Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. If you persist, your feelings will eventually fall in line with your faith. Do not hide from your fear or pretend it isn’t there. Anxiety that you hide in the recesses of your heart will give birth to fear of fear: a monstrous mutation. Bring your anxieties out into the Light of My Presence, where we can deal with them together. Concentrate on trusting Me, and fearfulness will gradually lose its foothold within you.

EPHESIANS 6:16; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

1 JOHN 1:5–7; This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the …

ISAIAH 12:2; Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 414). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


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