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The Sermon on the Plain

If I were to ask you if you recognized the term "The Sermon on the Mount," I suspect that most of you would immediately say "yes!"  Just about every movie about the life of Christ has included the scene in which Jesus preaches this famous sermon which begins with what we commonly call the "Eight Beatitudes."
 
Do you recognize the term "The Sermon on the Plain"?  If not, don't fret about it too much.  Actually, this term is used to designate the very same sermon.  When St. Luke wrote his Gospel, he included much of St. Matthew's version, but he placed it in a different location: "And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. . ." (Luke 6:17-18a)  Much of the content of the sermon is the same although it is noticeably shorter.  Why?
 
First of all, it must be said that Jesus probably didn't speak this lengthy sermon that covers several chapters of the Gospel as it is recorded in the Gospels.  Scholars believe that both St. Matthew and St. Luke gathered together many of the various sayings of Jesus and created this sermon, weaving many of his more memorable sayings together into a "sermon."  
 
Secondly, we also have to realize that St. Matthew, a Jew, and St. Luke, a Gentile, were writing for different audiences.  St. Matthew was trying to impress upon his fellow Jews that Jesus was the "new Moses," the new law giver.  Consequently, because Moses gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments from atop a mountain, Jesus preaches his sermon from atop a mountain.  St. Luke, on the other hand, was writing for a Gentile audience.  The history of discrimination between Jew and Gentile was so pronounced that St. Luke wanted to emphasize that Jesus, a Jew by birth, had come for all people.  So he places Jesus on "level" ground with these people.
 
Today the American Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Peter Claver, a man who worked to ease the suffering of slaves and who preached the Gospel to them.  He is held particularly dear among African American Catholics.  The opening prayer for the liturgy today recalls St. Peter's work to dispel racial tension.
 
As we listen to St. Luke's Gentile version of the Sermon on the Plain, we also pray for the end to all kinds of discrimination whether it be racial, ethnic, or gender bias.  Jesus came for all people, not just a few and not just the elite of this world.
 
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
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