Hunger and Hope

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon .... And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor ... "

Luke 6:17-26

February 11, 2022, Words By: Fred Laceda, Image By: Joey Velasco

Made Flesh

This painting is called “Hapag ng Pag asa” (Table of Hope) by Filipino artist Joey Velasco. It’s his rendition of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with a few important changes that capture one’s attention and evoke so much emotion.

First, Velasco replaced the disciples at the table with Filipino children. But they aren’t imaginary kids. Rather, they are real children Velasco has crossed paths with in the streets of Manila. Each child in the painting tells a story of survival, hunger and hope. 

Second, you may have noticed that they are seated around a makeshift table constructed of big delivery boxes and dilapidated wood crates. Again, that detail depicts reality. Those materials are the go-to for homeless individuals and families in Manila to build their shanties and furniture. In my own experience of serving the homeless, these boxes are their only protection against the elements; and I frequently see them being used as hapag — the table where they eat. 

This painting, and the way it incorporates the reality of the children’s lives, functions as a microcosm of what life looks like from below in Manila. The Philippines currently has the highest poverty rate in Southeast Asia, and it’s only gotten worse during the pandemic. 

And the simple reality in my country is that living below the poverty line means one thing: you are hungry most of the time. The Good News for me in Velasco’s Table of Hope is that the children are being fed. Their needs are being met.

As I read the lectionary text for this Sunday, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, the Good News doesn’t seem so obvious at first glance. Jesus lists off a litany of “blessings” for the marginalized, such as, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…”

To be honest, I can’t imagine preaching this text to our poor neighborhood. It would feel like I’m sugarcoating our situation, or worse, denying our collective plight as poor people. 

When I encounter this barrier, my tendency is to move to the second part of the text, which is full of “woes” for those who are rich: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” I’m tempted to interpret this text as a tale of reversal, as many scholars have done. At least that interpretation would provide some satisfaction. 

Whenever there’s an imbalance of power in relationships, there’s a desire to “fix it” by having the characters simply trade places. But in that case, the broken system remains unscathed, there are just different people that are suffering. And generally speaking, the only way to trade places in that broken system is through violent means.

So where does that leave us? I would suggest it takes us right back to the beginning of the text for a fresh look at how we understand Luke’s version of this famous sermon.

Unlike Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s version actually happens on a plain. It’s a place where people from all walks of life gather, insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, on the same level as each other, to listen and be healed.

It’s there, at the place where all are level with each other and Jesus, that he speaks the blessings and woes, within earshot of everyone, but directly to his disciples. It’s not an abstract message about their pain from a privileged outsider. It comes from the Son of God who will take their very pain onto himself.

This is how Jesus’ message breaks from the old violent mold.

By not denying the woundedness of those who suffer, Jesus opens up a way to process our pain. By walking alongside us, he becomes both a companion on the journey of suffering and a model for a new way forward. For many of us who have suffered historical injustice, there’s a temptation to find our identity in victimhood, and to use that identity as a justification to inflict pain on others. Perhaps because that’s how society has always worked. 

In Luke, Jesus provides a new path that doesn’t deny our pain or make it our primary source of identity. He doesn’t condone the violence of the oppressor, nor does he respond in kind. 

In his many conversations with the children in his painting, Velasco noticed that, without diminishing their experiences of woundedness and suffering, the children often talk of “awa ng Diyos” — God’s mercy amidst life’s hardships. That’s where they find their identity, in a God who suffers with them and shows a new way forward that brings healing to everyone. May we all learn to see Jesus through their eyes. That may be the only way to stop the violence. 

Dwelling Among Us

In Matthew, this sermon takes place on a mountain, a place of transcendence. But here in Luke, it’s in a “level” place, among the people, showing them how to live in this world. How is the Kingdom of God showing up in your context in the here and now?

About The Author

Fred Laceda