Sunday, February 10, 2019

Luke 6.17-26: Jesus Makes a Point

Did he preach standing on the side of a mountain? Was it on a flat piece of ground? The gospel writers differ, but in each case the meat of Jesus' sermon includes what we call the Beatitudes (Luke 6:17-26). The Beatitudes remind us of who is blessed (makarios can also be translated "greatly honored") in God's realm and who faces woe when that realm comes.

Jesus' phrases are familiar, but trying to capture all of his words leaves most artists with a generic scene of Jesus surrounded by disciples and crowds. In many of the images Jesus is making a widely-recognized oratorical gesture. His arm is raised and his index finger is pointed upward. You can see Socrates, Socrates again, even a toga-clad George Washington making the same gesture. It is a gesture designed to call attention to a particular point being made by the speaker.

In the work shown here, Jesus' disciples are gathered around him along with a crowd of people. In a soft golden light, a backlit Jesus sits but has raised his right arm. His finger points upward, echoing the gesture of Socrates and George Washington.

 At what point do you think this is? What is the point of the sermon where Jesus raises his right hand to emphasize his point? Surely he did not hold up that hand through the entire sermon. Is he emphasizing that the poor (the reading is from Luke's gospel, after all) to whom the kingdom of God belongs. Or perhaps he is emphasizing the woes to come for those who are full or for those who are laughing. What do you think is the most important part of the sermon? Or even the most important of the Beatitudes? What is Jesus' point?

The painting shown here is attributed to Gustave Dore online, but I'm unable to find a collection source that offers definitive information. You might look at other paintings of Jesus preaching this sermon and survey the many different hand gestures. Which ones are inviting? Which ones are forbidding? Are there some that seem to show uncertainty? Can those body language cues give you a way to interpret the entire sermon?

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