Friday, 7 June 2013

The Sermon on the Plain

Recently we were fortunate to visit the Mount on which Jesus instructed the apostles and disciples on the Beatitudes. The little church is set in lovely gardens overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the whole embraces you with an atmosphere of great peace. We could have just stayed there the whole day, quietly comtemplating the meaning of the Beatitudes. As we looked down onto the plain which gently stretches out to the Sea of Galilee, somewhere down there Jesus later instructed the Apostles, followers and a multitude in matters which have become known as the Sermon on the Plain (Luke Vi 17 - 38).


The conditions under which Jesus taught had changed as it was now becoming increasingly dangerous to be associated with him. Present at the Sermon on the Plain were the Apostles who had only recently been elected as such, a crowd of disciples or professed believers and followers, and finally a very great multitude of people from Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, including many self-interested, sceptics and those influenced by the calumnies against and opposition to Our Lord. We may see many parallels between this latter group and those who attend churches today, influenced by the World: cafeteria christians. So Jesus was addressing a very different audience from His Apostles and followers when on the Mount. Moreover, this sermon was divided into two parts: in the first He was instructing the Apostles on how to approach an audience un-receptive to divine truths and in the second He addressed Himself to the multitude.

The Sermon on the Mount and that on the Plain are to a degree identical; however the latter sermon was modified from that on the Mount: with poor rather than poor in spirit, those who weep rather than those who mourn over sins, hunger for food rather hunger and thirst for justice, while the blessings on the meek, merciful, clean of heart and peacemakers are omitted. Taking a modern secular view, the latter blessings are not truly understood today.

Also Jesus added to each blessing, woes:

Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of God; woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be filled; woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh; woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep. Blessed shall you be when men hate you, and when they shall separate you, and shall reproach you and cast out your name as evil (increasingly happening today) for the Son of Man's sake.

In this first part Jesus seems to be saying to His followers, don't waste your time trying to educate those who are not true followers with the divine truths contained in the Sermon of the Mount; rather concentrate on this modified set which will be easier to explain and to understand. Or please do not cast pearls of divine truths among a promiscuous audience.

Then Jesus addresses the crowd:

Turning to the multitude, Jesus echoes the Sermon on the Mount in the precepts of charity: love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you and pray for them, turn the other cheek and give your other cloak; all these form part of the general principle, accepted by all, that we are to do to others as we would have them do to us. The precepts of mercy follow by Jesus emphasising the mercifulness and all forgivingness of God and therefore we are not to judge others and accordingly we won't be judged. Finally, he warned about following false prophets who will be known by their fruits (our world is full of false prophets of doom, secular and religious, and other threats from nature or government itself, especially against those who live their faith in the public square: know them by their fruits and treat with them accordingly).

If you want to be a true follower of Jesus head for the Mount.

If anyone wishes to be His follower, then a much higher state of perfection is demanded. While addressing a wide variety of people, Jesus keeps back or hides the more exquisite and lofty truths by which perfection can only be achieved. So perhaps priests today should refresh their minds about what divine truths they should really preach from the pulpit, recognising that within their audience there will be but a very few, if any at all, interested in reaching the high states of perfection demanded by Jesus of His true followers, especially today: for example, giving up everything to follow Him, totally pro-life in thoughts and deeds, avoiding any contact with sin especially through the eyes which are the windows into the soul (eg. television), being meek in all situations, mourning or even weeping over your sins and the sins of the world and in the church and so on.

(Reference: The Public Life of our Lord, V, The Training of the Apostles Part (II),

H J Coleridge SJ, Burns and Oates, 1882)

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