The gospel this week is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. It has a harder edge to it than Matthew’s account, and the location of the sermon has moved from a hilltop to a plain or level place. Since Luke’s version is probably later it must recount a separate preaching event. If the content of two sermons are similar that would not be surprising. What preacher does not re-cycle his material and repeat himself?
What captivates me about Luke’s account is its tough language. Jesus is pronouncing blessing and curses, but the blessings are hardly blessings. You will not laugh. You will be persecuted. You will be poor, and if you laugh, if you are rich if you are powerful you will be cursed. We would have expected the opposite. Jesus stands our expectations on their head.
What shall we make of this strange teaching? Why are you cursed if you laugh and enjoy life? Why are you blessed when you are persecuted, poor and alone?
Whenever you are mystified by some teaching of the faith view it through the lens of the cross and you will understand.
Jesus’ whole mission from the very beginning was to engage in battle. The way he is doing this is by taking the battle to the enemy. He is meeting him on his own ground. He’s playing an away game. He plans to break the power of evil from the inside out.
This means he is going to defeat power by weakness. He is going to defeat persecution by accepting it. He is going to defeat poverty by being poor. He is going to defeat sickness by having compassion and healing the sick. He is going to defeat death by dying.
The sermon on the mount, with its reversal of values, is a pointer to his paschal mystery, when it all comes to a climax and the persecution and pain and suffering which he says are blessed are revealed in all their terrible glory.
It is on Mount Calvary, therefore, that the final sermon on the mount is preached. It is in that mystery that every other mystery is unlocked.
This is why St Paul says, “I am resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.”
And this is why we have crucifixes in church
And this is why we go to Mass–because it is on the altar that this one, full, final sacrifice is revealed and applied in the present moment.