RICH MAN, POOR MAN
Good Friday morning to you. Oh my, we have so much work yet to do as we continue our journey through the Bible. I do hope you are enjoying this work we are doing together. Today, we are still in Luke's Gospel. We will spend more time with Luke than we did with Matthew and Mark. Today, we will look at Luke's version of the Beatitudes. Remember, we looked at Matthew's in Matthew, chapter five. (You may want to refresh your memory)
"Looking at his disciples, he said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:20-22)
If you compare Matthew's Beatitude statements with those found in Luke you will notice a stark difference. I remember wall hangings where the Beatitudes would be framed in a beautiful frame and hung on a living room wall. Well, any wall hanging with the Beatitudes is based only on Matthew's version, not Luke's. Clearly, Matthew has Jesus saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." While Luke simply says: "Blessed are you who are poor...blessed are you who hunger now..." Many have tried to explain away the fact that Luke is referring to physical hunger and poverty. Well, try as they may, and they will...they are wrong. In Luke, Jesus is talking about those who are physically hungry and poor. How do we know this? By looking at the entire Gospel. (By the way, while righteousness is a favorite word of Matthew, Luke hardly ever uses it, and when he does it is to refer to God's righteousness)
If you recall Jesus began his ministry in Luke's gospel by opening the scroll and reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus quoted: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor..." (Luke 4:18) Now, before I continue we must also look closely at something else Luke offers that Matthew does not. After he gives his "blessing" statements Jesus turns around and issues statements of "woe." "But woe to you who are rich...Woe to you who are well fed now..." (Luke 6:24-26) Yes, these are the words of Jesus in Luke and they are found in whatever translation you choose to read. This will be a theme that runs all through Luke's gospel. Remember, only Luke offered insight as to the economic status of Jesus' parents. Economics are important to Luke. How do we know this? Again, by looking at the entire gospel.
We will say more about the parables found in Luke's gospel sometime later, but I do need to mention something here to further our point. As you know Jesus often teaches in parables. (In Matthew, Mark and Luke) In Luke's gospel there are many parables that are not found in Matthew and Mark. (again, no parables in John) There are actually fourteen parables that are only in Luke. (We will look more at some of them later)One of these parables is the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) Before Luke offers this parable he makes a statement that is not found, nor supported in any other text: "The Pharisees, who loved money..." (Luke 16:14) Again, there is no other text that supports the fact the Pharisees were lovers of money. Luke wants us to see this. Then, there is another story found only in Luke. It's the story of Zacchaeus. You are probably familiar with this story. Children often sing a cute little song where they declare "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he..." Oh, poor Zacchaeus! How would you like to be known as a wee little man? Yes, Luke tells us that Zac (I'll shorten his name for it takes me long enough to type the way it is) was short...(although in some translations one could read the passage to mean that Jesus was the one who was vertically challenged), but Luke offers us other information about him. Luke says: "A man was there by the name of Zac..;he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy." (Luke 19:2) Now, I ask you; does it really matter to the story that Zac is rich? Yes, and no. No, it doesn't matter that much to us, but it matters to Luke and what he wants us to see. Zac welcomed Jesus into his home. Zac then gave half of his possessions to the poor and restored fourfold what he had unjustly taken from others. Jesus then says to him: "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." (Luke 19:9) Compare this story with that of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In that story the rich man did nothing to help the beggar and ended up in hell. Here the rich man gives back to those who are poor and who have been hurt by his actions. Therefore, Luke is not condemning the rich for being rich, but based on what they do with the riches. Do they use their wealth as a means to help the oppressed or further oppression?
As long as we are looking at economics as being vital to understanding Luke's gospel we need to look at what Jesus meant by "releasing the oppressed." (Luke 4:18) Yes, oppression comes in many forms. Today, we think of Jesus as having come to free people from sin. That was not what the people wanted in a messiah in Jesus' day. No, the people were oppressed by others and had been for years. Let's explore further.
In recent years there has been much said about the state of the middle class in America. There is fear that the middle class as we have always known it is, or has, disappeared. Well, in ancient society there was no middle class. Most people were lower class. We have already looked at Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. This was Jesus bringing to life Zechariah's prophecy (Zech 9:9) dealing with the end of oppression. (a time when captives would be set free) In this scene the crowds are filled with visions and dreams of God's kingdom. Now, in Luke, Jesus proceeds to tell what is known as the Parable of the Tenants. (Keep in mind, by this time he is close to death) Why would Jesus waste time telling a parable about tenants at a time such as this? After all, high noon is approaching in Jerusalem. Well, you can read the parable for yourself. (Luke 20:9-18) After he told the parable "the teachers of the Law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them." (Luke 20:19) Why would this implicate them? Well, Jesus is referring to those who controlled the land. As the Roman Empire spread local aristocrats would be empowered by Rome. These aristocrats included chief priests and Herod. By the time Jesus rode into Jerusalem all the wealth was dominated by Jerusalem. There were two main sources of Jerusalem's wealth. One was the temple. (Remember Jesus' rage inside the temple?) The other was Herod himself. Herod employed many people in building projects. According to Jewish historian Josephus Herod once employed 18,000 people to build the second temple of Herod. The problem? The unequal distribution of wealth between Jerusalem and outside Jerusalem.
The land outside Jerusalem in the Judean countryside was very fruitful. This land would often be worked by tenants. Who were the tenants? Often those who worked as tenants were those who found themselves working the land that once belonged to them. The tenancy system was a form of debt bondage.
I hope you will join me on Monday as we will look at something else that will be very interesting. I can't wait for it. Have a great weekend. Stay warm! This Sunday is both Epiphany and Baptism of our Lord Sunday. It is also Communion Sunday here at Madison United Methodist Church. If you don't already have a place of worship we invite you to come out and be with us. God Bless! -Pastor Rick