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FEBRUARY 14, 2010: SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 17:5-8
I Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Luke 6:17, 20-26

Today’s Lucan pericope sounds familiar; but it’s not as familiar as we might like it to be. We’re more accustomed to hearing the eight beatitudes in Matthew 5 than the four in Luke 6. Since Luke and Matthew seem never to have read one another’s gospel, and Mark, whom they did read and copy, says nothing about beatitudes, scholars believe both Luke and Mathew used a common source for their passages. We usually refer to that document as the “Q” - short for the German word “queue:” the source. Though no one has seen a copy of the Q for at least 1,700 years, it appears to have been a collection of Jesus’ sayings which circulated in some early Christian communities even before our four gospels came into existence. Its creation and use demonstrates the importance the first Christians gave to the historical Jesus’ words.

Yet it’s also important for students of Scripture to see how often Matthew and Luke change, expand or shorten the words of Jesus which they found in the Q. For instance, in the first beatitude Matthew’s Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke’s Jesus simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” Though both evangelists believe Jesus praised the poor, there’s a big difference between being poor in spirit and being plain poor. If you had lots of money, would you rather be a member of Matthew’s community or Luke’s?

No evangelist feels compelled to pass on the historical Jesus’ exact words. They’re more concerned with what the risen Jesus is telling their communities as they write their gospels than with what the carpenter from Capernaum told his community during his earthly ministry. The risen Jesus is the only Jesus they know.

That’s why today’s second reading is so important. Paul’s dealing with a small group in his Corinthian community who have no difficulty believing Jesus rose from the dead, but have serious doubts about their own resurrection. Responding to their doubts, the Apostle falls back on what he wrote in chapters 12, 13, and 14. All of us together form the body of the risen Jesus. If something happens to us, it happens to him, and whatever happens to him, happens to us. “If the dead are not raised,” he writes, “neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins.”

It’s one thing to track down the historical Jesus’ precise words; it’s a totally other thing to track down the risen Jesus’ precise words. According to Paul, we can’t do it without the input of the whole community.

Everyone agrees both the historical and the risen Jesus is concerned that followers of God remove all obstacles standing between them and carrying out God’s will. More than five centuries before Jesus’ birth, Jeremiah stressed that same point. “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from Yahweh.” On the other hand, “Blessed is the one who trusts in Yahweh, whose hope is in Yahweh.” Because wealth frequently is more important than God’s will, Jesus, the reformer (both historical and risen), has a lot to say on the subject.

But when it comes to applying this general principle to a concrete community, could the risen Jesus be saying different things to different churches?

Luke, following his general attitude toward wealth, includes no “in spirit” loophole in Jesus’ saying. Matthew, believing some wealthy people can still put God first, adds “in spirit.” It’s significant, though, that even Luke, the “strict observer,” mellows in Acts 16 when he permits Paul and Timothy to stay in the very wealthy Lydia’s home during their ministry in her city. Perhaps the risen Jesus not only says different things to different folks, he might also be saying different things at different times to different folks.