(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel for this Sunday begins with Jesus coming down from a mountain. After praying for some time, Jesus has chosen twelve apostles from among his disciples. Apostles are people who are sent out to do the will of God. We wonder what they will be sent out to do.
Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a level place with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
A great crowd of people gathers around Jesus and the twelve. St. Luke tells us that they gather on a level place—ground that is flat and even. With everyone standing together on the level ground, will it not be difficult for Jesus to teach? There is no boat for him to step into so that everyone can see him. Maybe he will go back up the mountain a ways so that he can teach them properly.
Then he looked up at his disciples
Now hang on. Jesus has made things worse. If everyone is standing together on level ground and Jesus looks up at them, Jesus must have made himself lower. Possibly he has sat down on the ground or has sunk to his knees. In any case, it will be almost impossible for most people to see him. Why does Jesus choose to teach in this way?
From his lowly place on the ground, Jesus says,
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Jesus speaks directly to the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. They may not be able to see him in his lowly place on the ground, but Jesus sees their need. They are not forgotten. He promises a great reversal. God will make things right. In fact, Jesus calls these people "blessed", which means they are in right-relationship with God. They know who the Giver is; they are ready to receive. They have found favour with God.
Then Jesus says,
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Wait, wait, wait. Pardon? What do the apostles think of this? Not blessed if they are hated and excluded; blessed when they are hated and excluded. Because of Jesus, they will be hated and excluded. Not cool.
But Jesus says,
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Rejoice, Jesus says. Like John the Baptist inside of his mother, leap for joy! Why, oh why, should they rejoice over being hated? Why should they leap for joy? Because like John the Baptist inside of his mother, the Lord is near. Because like John the Baptist, this is how the prophets are treated in scripture.
Prophets listen to the word of God. They hear the vision God has for the Kingdom: no more sorrow, no more pain, no more hunger, no more death. They feel God's pain over what is not right in the world. Then prophets speak what the world needs to hear, and the world rejects them. But God does not reject them. They are the prophets. Everyone knows that prophets have found favour with God. Prophets are the friends of God.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Now Jesus speaks directly to the rich, the full, and those who laugh. They may not be able to see him from the lofty place where they stand, but Jesus sees their self-satisfaction. They stand among those who are in need, and they do nothing. Again, Jesus promises a great reversal. These people are not in right-relationship with God. They are not concerned with who the Giver is; they have not found favour with God.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
If everyone speaks well of the apostles, then they are not fulfilling their role as prophets. If everyone speaks well of them, then they are like the rich, the full, and the ones who laugh—they accept the way things are, they reject the vision of the Kingdom. Woe to them.
God will make things right. God will make things level. God requires the help of prophets.
Who will these prophets be? Who will sit down with the lowly? Who will declare, I am not content with the way things are?
Jesus calls the twelve apostles to be prophets but he also calls us. At our baptism, we are anointed with the Oil of Chrism—the Christ oil that makes us priest, prophet, and king like him. He does not promise that it will be easy to speak up for the vision of the Kingdom. In fact, he says, some people will hate us for it. They will exclude us because of him. Not all will speak well of us. But, he says, we are blessed when this happens. We are not forgotten. We have found favour with God.