This sermon, focussed on Jesus’s mission to the poor, is based on Luke 4:14-21. I delivered it on 27th January 2019 (Year C, Epiphany 3).
In First-Century civilization, three classes made up society:
- The aristocracy – the ruling class, an international elite who worked together to stay on top, no matter what their apparent differences;
- The middle class – traders, artisans, priests, tax collectors, officials and so on; and
- The poor – who had to work as hard as they could just to stay alive.
This was brilliantly illustrated in a sketch on the Frost Report.
Views then and Now
If you took a conventional view of religion back then, you would assume that God blesses the rich, and everyone would agree with you.
- The aristocracy would agree that their rightful position was on top, (self) satisfied that their success showed them to be blessed by God and confirmed in looking down on the social-climbing middle classes.
- Those middle classes would be happy to agree that wanted to climb the greasy pole and join the aristocracy. They wanted to be ‘top people’ and – more than anything else – to avoid becoming poor.
- And those poor people would agree that being poor sucked, so they must be cursed by God; they wanted to join the middle class and get away from the daily struggle for survival, which left no time for anything else.
In our Twenty-First-Century
Absolutely nothing has changed.
Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 4
Yet, when Jesus starts his public ministry, he begins in Galilee, an isolated backwater, cut off from the rest of Israel, which itself is on the very edge of the Roman Empire. He goes home, to an insignificant village. He accepts a scroll
- To deliver good news to the poor;
- To preach a message that:
- means freedom for the locked-away;
- will open the eyes of those who can’t see; and
- To set free the used and abused.
To deliver this message, Jesus is supported by the middle class: disciples who are boat-owning fishermen, even a tax collector; a doctor – Luke, who wrote this Gospel; and his ministry is funded by women who have some money to spare.
Jesus Loves the Poor: but does he Hate the Rich?
Not necessarily, but…Jesus was opposed by the monarchy, the aristocracy, the two political parties, the religious authorities, those senior officials who collaborated with the Roman Empire. They tried to kill him many times. Eventually, they get him, find him guilty in an illegal trial (held at night, only no witnesses) and trick the Roman authorities into murdering Him.
It seems that our reaction to Jesus is largely determined by our wealth.
Now, there are exceptions to any rule: those poor who accepted payment to become a mob and shout “crucify him!”; the tax-collector who repents and becomes a disciple; even Nicodemus, former Jewish ambassador to Rome, who listens to Jesus and changes allegiance from the aristocracy, his class, to the Messiah.
What should we Conclude from all this?
- First, if you’re poor – locked out of society, deceived, duped, used and abused by the rich – then Jesus has good news for you. You will be set free and able to see what’s really going on;
- Second, the middle classes had better think about what their priorities are: climbing that greasy pole; or using their good fortune for good, telling people about Jesus?
- Third, the rich must repent, and radically change direction, or they will be shut out of heaven for eternity. Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25) [NIV].
But those richest 26 people in the world? I wouldn’t bet on their chances of going to heaven; that’s not “gambling responsibly”, is it? But you, brothers and sisters in Christ? You’ll be just fine. See you in heaven.
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