6 Epiphany: Commitments of the heart

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This is a reflection on Luke 6:17-26

I confess: details matter.
As someone who sees the forest
more often than the trees,
the acknowledgment that details matter
is a bitter pill.

Of course, the opposite is true as well:
the big picture alerts us
to the “meaning” of the details.

This story from Luke
has amazing details
that can change how we see the big picture,
and if we look at this story
from the perspective of the bigger picture,
we suddenly see some things about Jesus —
and about who we are —
that we may have never seen before.

Now I know that not every one gets excited
about Jesus or Jesus stories.
I get that, but come with me on this one,
because it might actually be of interest to you.

I am going to zero in on the details
in a way I normally do not —
except, of course,
in stories like this one
which make me highly motivated to do so.

Luke’s story begins:
“Jesus came down with them…”

The immediate back story to this,
which comes just before
where we began today in the story,
is that Jesus was praying up on a mountain.
After doing so, it says he chose twelve people
out of a larger group of disciples
which he then named “apostles.”
After that, he came down from the mountain.

We understand then,
that this was the first time
the starting twelve were named and formed,
so the team was really new.

But beside the starting twelve
there were a lot of players that didn’t make the cut
and were going to have to play in the minor leagues.

So the “them” in “Jesus came down with them,”
is a group of disciples, the starting twelve.

Then it says that Jesus 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.”

The translation we’re using today
has loser paraphrasing, but the better translation
is “great crowd” and “great multitude.”
So Jesus came down
and stood on a level place.
Now that is a big “tell,”
like a gambler’s facial twitch
that tells you he or she is holding Full House.

Why didn’t Jesus stand on a boulder
or outcropping where everyone could see
and hear him better?
That makes no sense
for something we have always called
the “Sermon on the Mount.”

Tellingly, he stood on a level place
with a great “crowd” of his disciples.
It says he stood with the twelve apostles
among a “great crowd” of his disciples.
So all those who didn’t make the starting twelve
were there too.
How many is a great crowd?
I am going to say seventy or eighty
because that is a number mentioned in other places.

So we have Jesus,
the starting twelve,
and four score more disciples.

The next little detail is of great significance
to the whole of this story,
and to you and me who form the bigger picture
in which this story is but a detail.

We are told three specific things:
one, there was a “great crowd” of disciples
in addition to the twelve;
two, there was a “great multitude” of others,
for which we have no clue how many;
and three, the multitude was composed
of people from all over Judea, Jerusalem,
and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

We do not know much
about the great crowd of unnamed disciples
but we do have some information
about the multitude.
”Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast…”
is like saying people from Long Island to Buffalo,
and everywhere in between.
Urbanites, suburbanites, country folks,
and Geneva types.

Then Luke makes sure to tell us
the special interest groups involved:
“They had come to hear him
and to be healed of their diseases;
and those who were troubled by unclean spirits.”

All of that gives us a pretty good picture
so that now, having seen the trees,
we can see the forest.

Once upon a time a celebrity
spent the night
praying on a mountain
and came down
to where the people were waiting
with great expectation.
Some wanted to hear what he had to say.
Some wanted to have their wounds and illnesses
taken away.
And some wanted whatever anguish
and turmoil that troubled their minds
to be released.

And then it says,
in a little throw away line:
all of them wanted to “touch” him.

When I hear this scene this way,
the picture in my mind
is of a great throng of people
pushing and straining to touch Jesus.

There is the feeling of a certain mayhem
or stirring chaos
animating the moment.
When we stand at the end of this story
and look back at it through the details,
it is this next part that proves pivotal.

At this most dramatic moment —
the crowd’s movement undulating
with restless energy,
the multitude pressing in to get a piece of Jesus —
the prophet does something startling.

It says that Jesus looked up at his disciples
and started talking to them.
Remember, he is on level ground.

That means Jesus had to turn his back
on the diverse multitude
and turn around
to look up at the great crowd of his disciples.
It is such a strange details
that it can’t have been a mistake.
Jesus is standing between
a great crowd of disciples above where he stands
and a diverse multitude on the other side
who are agitating to touch him.
It is at that very moment
he turns his back on the diverse multitude.

Jesus’ most famous teaching —
the so-called beatitudes —
are delivered to the disciples
not the multitude.

He tells those disciples: “Blessed are you…”

He is talking directly to the disciples here.
He is not talking to us —
you and I are the needy crowd in this story
just in case you thought we were the disciples.
It is the disciples who are blessed, not us.

On the other hand,
it is the disciples who
get woe hurled against them too, not us.

Don’t you just love the unexpected destination
the details of the story take us to?

Taking Luke at his word,
here is what we know from this story:
Jesus’ crowd of disciples
were made up of rich
and poor,
and full,
and happy,
and popular.

That is what the text says.

We cannot romanticize
this most famous teaching of Jesus
as a polemic against the fat cats
while lionizing of the downtrodden.

Rather, we are listening
to a locker room pep-talk
to scores of followers
who Jesus clearly thinks
have very uneven abilities, needs,
and accomplishments.

Now we didn’t read the whole sermon today
but this is a story of a mentor
telling his students and close associates
how to navigate the ups and downs of life.
He is telling them
how to keep on being “Blessed.”

The Bless-ed, he tells them,
are those who continue
to remain faithful to the commitments
of their heart
even when they are not blessed
by the good things in life.

Let me repeat that
because it is a stunning piece of wisdom.

The Bless-ed
are those who continue
to remain faithful to the commitments
of their heart
even when not blessed
by the good things in life.

That is worth thinking about
when we are working through
the hard stuff we have to work through
in our lives.

There is something out there,
or in here (the heart)
that Jesus calls “a blessing”
that apparently has nothing to do
with being satiated,
or accomplished.

What the heck?

Is he trying to say
we do not live in a system
of reward and punishment?
There is something rewarding
that is unattached to the rewards?
If that is true,
it could be most subversive
to our way of life.

It would also undermine the gospel
that so many churches proclaim
that says if people would just do “this”
then God will reward them with “that.”

The Bless-ed
are those who continue
to remain faithful to the commitments
of their heart
even when not blessed
by the good things in life.

I’m going to have to think about that.

The Bless-ed
are those who continue
to remain faithful to the commitments
of their heart
even when not blessed
by the good things in life?