So many of life’s learning environments are disorienting, purposefully so. Some are more blatant about it: in the two seconds I thought about it, I came up with most sports and music programs, seminary, and most of all, military basic training. All break you down to build you back up into the person you can be.
In a way, Jesus did this all the time. (As a side note, worship, which is an environment in which you can learn but not technically a learning environment, can be disorienting, but not purposefully; worship is purposefully re-orienting – it orients us God-ward). Anyway, Jesus didn’t set out to disorient anyone, as far as I can tell, but as it happens when He or anyone tells us the truth, the truth as God gives it to us, we, the finite and sinful, are easily thrown off course.
Take today’s Gospel from Luke. It’s a short sermon from Jesus, the Sermon on the Plain, which sounds very much like the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, because either they’re same sermon remembered slightly differently, or Jesus had to give it twice so it would sink in.
Jesus’ words don’t immediately make sense. “Blessed are you poor; Blessed are you that hunger now; Blessed are you that weep now; Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man; But woe to you that are rich; Woe to you that are full now; Woe to you that laugh now; Woe to you, when all men speak well of you.” Seems like the opposite of our reality, because unfortunately, it often is.
So a couple things to think about. First, we need to note that while Jesus surrounded by a crowd – in fact He was once again almost overwhelmed by the people who were coming to Him to be healed of various illnesses – He did not give this sermon to the crowds, but to the Disciples, in the presence of the crowds. Jesus knew that His words would likely sow confusion amongst the people, the people who had not yet spent time with Him, had not yet decided to follow Him as Lord and Savior. As Reginald Fuller once put it, this sermon presupposes grace; the grace of God that allows the listener to understand the reality Jesus is presenting. “Only insofar as persons are “in Christ” will they reproduce this kind of life in their own lives.”
Second, and remarkably, “there is no contingency plan. There are no urgings or exhortations to behave in certain ways so as to earn these blessings and avoid the curses. In fact, there is no call to action at all. Rather, Jesus is just pronouncing the facts. He is painting for us a picture of what the Kingdom of God is. He is not making suggestions about how to be happy or giving warnings on how to keep from being miserable. Jesus is making defining statements of the way life is inside and outside the reign of God. It is a reversal of fortunes for the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the full and the empty.” This is not a roadmap for a good life, but a statement about life.
So how is it possible that the poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the excluded are the ones who are blessed? Why is it that the rich, the well-fed, the mirthful, and the well-regarded are the subjects of misery?
Well, because the well-fed, well-regarded rich have a tendency, at least, to rely on nothing and no one except themselves. Great wealth can, at least, cut you off from other people. You buy a big house, you need a big fence. Remember that when Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors”, he was being sarcastic. Those fences can be spiritual as well – one can forget that we all, in fact all things, rely on God for our very existence.
The poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the excluded rarely have to worry about forgetting all that. They have to worry about everything else, of course, but they know that they have nothing in and of themselves to entitle them to a right relationship with God, which is why they so often have a right relationship with God.
So do the rich, the well-fed, the mirthful, and the well-regarded have to reverse their fortunes? No. They – let’s just admit that we are they – we just have to be aware that we can become disoriented by a world which tells us to rely on ourselves, on our possessions, and our power. That allows us to be poor in spirit, hungry for righteousness, mournful for a broken world, set apart for good works, reoriented by the grace of God.
 Reginald H. Fuller: http://liturgy.slu.edu/6OrdC021719/theword_indepth.html