Sermon on the Level Place


Karoly Ferenczy was a Hungarian painter who became a major figure in the art world of his time. He is considered the “father of Hungarian impressionism.” Impressionists got their start in France in the 1860s and were not interested in realism in their paintings, but rather preferred to convey an impression of what the subject matter looked like to them.

This painting is entitled “Sermon on the Mount,” which is where Jesus gives us the Beatitudes (which means “blessed” in Latin), but this picture doesn’t depict much of a mount. It is more like the “level place” that Luke refers to when he gives us a slightly different version of the Beatitudes than Matthew. (Luke 6:17-22 and Matthew 5:1-12). I suppose “Sermon on the Mount” sounds better than “Sermon on the Level Place.”

I love the simplicity of this setting. Instead of Jesus being on some high and lofty plain, like most paintings of this scene, he is down among the people, at their level. And we, as observers, are right there with them. Jesus sits with his back to us with his palms open. This could be a gesture to show he is opening up a picture of what the Kingdom of heaven looks like. Or it could be a foretelling of the nails that would pierce those same palms. I also appreciate the diversity of the crowd—young, old, men, women, and even a soldier—all listening intently. Their focus is on the message and the man.  

Jesus says in this passage from Luke: “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.”

With these words, Jesus is turning the idea of blessedness upside down. Traditionally, to be blessed meant to be filled with power and fortune, yet Jesus tells us the opposite is true. Could he be saying that it is not bad to be rich, but it is bad to be rich while others are poor? That it is not bad to be full, but it is bad to be full when others are hungry? That it is not wrong to be happy but to also mourn with those who mourn?

Being Human connection: Even though Jesus had access to ultimate power and fortune, his attention was on the poor, the hungry and the sorrow-filled. He did not overlook them, and he’s asking us to not overlook them either. That is how we open up the Kingdom of heaven on earth to ourselves and to our neighbor.

Featured image: Karoly Ferenczy, The Sermon on the Mount, 1896, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest