Third Sunday Before Lent
I have read some really interesting novels and books in the last few months that have described some profound social and even revolutionary movements.
The first was the recent book by C J Sansom in the Shardlake series set in 1549 and the Kett Rebellion that took place in Norfolk.
It was essentially a group of farmers and labourers who resisted the enclosure of the lands and demanded that they should be able to farm the land free from interference. A subplot in the book is the simmering resentment that the commoners felt towards the aristocracy and rich.
It questioned inequalities and space is given to preachers who proclaimed that God would intervene on their behalf as the gospel of Jesus Christ is for the poor.
I have also been looking at events in Germany in 1525 when the peasants rebelled demanding land ownership and once again were inspired by preachers and ministers who said that God was on their side and would intervene and give them victory.
This was a brief time of hope and optimism. A new world was breaking in and God was on their side. Needless to say, the revolt and the Kett rebellion were both brutally crushed.
When you know how these things have played out in the past the reading from St Luke is really hard to interpret.
It is similar to the Beatitudes in St Matthew except it is known as the sermon on the plain.
Jesus says these words that we have heard on the level or the plains.
Once again we are told that multitudes of people from quite a distance are coming to him.
They come to hear his words and to be healed of diseases.
It is then that Jesus provides a sermon about who is in and who is out of the kingdom. It is not a sermon about the present as such but more about the future and what it will mean when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.
It bears similarities to Mary’s song which spoke of “the rich being sent empty away,” and also Jesus fulfilment of the words in the prophet Isaiah. His message is one of “good news to the poor, and will “set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
So there are blessings and curses. Jesus blesses the hungry, the mourners, the despised and those who are persecuted for their faith.
He then speaks of a great reversal that will take place to those who are rich, those who laugh and live in complacency, those who have never known hunger and those who have a good and presumably undeserved reputation.
There are links with some of the themes in the parable.
The rich man who has had a wonderful harvest and decides that he will build bigger barns and live in rest and luxury. We are told that god calls him a fool.
There is also the rich man and Lazarus, the poor man at his gate ignored and hungry, but who is in heaven is with Abraham whilst the rich man now lives in torment.
Zacchaeus presents a happy counterpoint—an exception to prove the rule—a rich tax collector who sees the light, renounces ill-gotten wealth, and wins salvation (19:1-10).
This emphasis on reversal encourages disciples, who might be suffering but who know that they belong, not to the kingdom of this world, but to the kingdom of God.
Perhaps there is the sense that the world is changing and although those who suffer may feel that God has abandoned them, rather God has heard their cry and will not abandon them. Yet, it seems that the reversal may be not in this life or is focused on a future time.
I find thinking about these passages really challenging.
It is so easy in life to become used to injustices and inequalities as they have always been with us.
When the news is able to give an insight into what is taking place in certain parts of the world or a report comes out from an organisation such as Amnesty International it is easy to become overwhelmed by the scale.
The last five years in particular have focused on the suffering of refugees and the vast movements of people across parts of Africa, South America and from the Middle East to Europe. When you hear the news about the suffering in Yemen or Zimbabwe it is tragic and we pray for an ending to a people’s suffering.
Maybe part of the blessing and curses in the Gospel is that some have lived with tunnel vision and have failed to recognise the suffering of their neighbours.
We may have to change how we live so that others can thrive and there are positive steps that have taken place over recent years.
Fairtrade goods are readily available and all of us are encouraged to think about looking after the environment.
Part of what we do as a church for the foodbanks and charities is bound up with this. It is important to live compassionately and care for those who are struggling. When we work together we can do far more than acting as individuals.
There are so many issues in the present day that seem wrong and unjust.
The Gospel suggests that there will be a time when this will change and although I don’t understand how this will take place and when, I do feel that as a church and a Christian you have to live with the hope in your heart that change is possible and that God works for the good.
Martin Luther King once said that the “arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.”
These are words of faith and hope but they seem really important.
As a church it would be presumptuous to say that we have the answer to complex questions and issues, but we can encourage an environment when we do look outwards and live with big hearts and compassion.