Monday, July 30, 2007

A Reflection on the Sermon on the Plain

Jesus' teachings in the "Sermon on the Plain" (Luke 6:17-49) run so counter to our human nature and how we are inclined to react to others in so vain a world, of which we ourselves are a part.

The Sermon on the Plain begins with the four beatitudes and the four woes, in which our Lord preaches lowliness and poverty: the humility to accept life's hardships, even those we receive from others, with the dependence on God to receive the temporal and spiritual graces we need. We are to "leap for joy" (Lk 6:23) when persecuted by others, when our natural reaction would be spite, retaliation, or despairing withdrawal for fear of being continually rejected. On the flip side of the coin, Christ also warns us of aspiring toward the high regard of others - "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you" (6:26).

When faced with the vices of bearing bitterness toward others and holding grudges against them, Jesus reminds us to persevere in mercy and meekness so as to be "sons of the Most High" who is "kind to the ungrateful and the selfish" (Lk 6:35). How easily we forget our Lord's words about being ourselves judged according to the same judgment we pronounce on others (6:38).

A gleam of hope in regards to constant hardship we may face with particular individuals is offered with the assurance "the measure you give will be the measure you get back"; whereby if we treat others with kindness and acceptance as children of God, we may receive the same kindness in return. Though, if we do not receive such return, we are still to show mercy and love: "Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return" (6:35). In other words, even if we show others kindness and love, we should not grow spiteful if the kindness is not returned. Nor, again, should we judge, lest we be judged, but rather "pray for those who abuse you" (6:28) and "be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (6:36)

Mercy implies acceptance of others, despite their sin, as persons who possess the inherent dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ died. We are not without sin ourselves, and should treat others as we wish to be treated (6:31), despite our sin. Unfortunately, today this maxim is touted with the implication that we accept people's sin, as well, in accepting them as people. A reaction to this, in turn, is to reject the notion of acceptance of others as rejecting the persons outright. But a distinction must be made in, as it's said, hating the sin, not the sinner. As our Lord told the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 8:12).

Are you having trouble with those around you at home, school, or work? Read and internalize the Sermon on the Plain!


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