Having called his disciples, healed some people, and having taught (and been thrown out of) the synagogue, Jesus comes down from a mountain where he was praying to the plain, where a crowd had gathered to hear him teach. This is Lukes version of the Sermon on the Mount – I guess we could call it the Preach on the Plain or something like that.
He begins with Luke’s version of the Beatitudes:
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied. (Luke 6:20-21)
This differs a little from Matthew’s version in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:4) and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (5:6). The differences reflect the emphasis for the poor shown in the gospel of Luke, but what else?
The beatitudes are not commands, but statements, and they come directly after Jesus has called the 12 disciples. Tom Wright (in Luke for Everyone) likens it to Jesus reminding his new team of followers of 4 or 5 things to remember as they start to follow him. They are reminders of what God’s kingdom looks like, which is upside down when compared to the kingdom of the world, then or now – reminders of who is to be valued – not just the people that current society values, but those who have no voice. It is similar, again, to what many of the OT prophets were saying.
Tom Wright says it well:
“Jesus is… fulfilling his promises at last, and this will mean good news for all the people who haven’t had any for a long time. The poor, the hungry, those who are hated, blessings on them! Not that there’s anything virtuous about being poor or hungry in itself. But when injustice is reigning, the world will have to be turned once more the right way up for God’s justice and kingdom to come to birth”
The poor are blessed because they stand to gain the most from God’s justice and kingdom coming, and they are most likely to look for it. By contrast, the rich, if they consider themselves rich and of no need “have already received their comfort” (6:24). It seems clear that Jesus is talking about the literal rich and poor not just the spiritual. God’s message is for everyone but the poor may be looking for satisfaction, fulfilment, and the kingdom of God more.