I thought it would be fun to look at a few of the differences between Luke's and Matthew's account of the Sermon and possible reasons for each.
- Matthew has the sermon taking place on a mount, or mountain. Luke has it taking place on a plain. One explanation might be that Matthew's Gospel was intended for a mainly Jewish audience. By placing Jesus on a mountain for this sermon, he is drawing parallels to Moses and showing that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Since Luke was writing to a broader audience than just the Jewish people, the parallel to Moses may have been less important. Another explanation might be that they could both be referring to a mountainous area, which would have both mounts and plains. In fact, I believe Luke's Gospel translated literally from Greek means "level area" which could be a flat part on a mountain.
- In Matthew, Jesus is with his Disciples. In Luke, he is preaching to a crowd as well. Again, this may be attributed to the audience each was writing to. Matthew's audience is Jesus' closest followers - all Jewish. Luke's audience includes people from Tyre and Sidon, which may mean there were Gentiles there as well (especially when paired the way they are with "Judea and Jerusalem"). It could also mean that Jesus first delivered this sermon to His Disciples, then walked down the mountain and delivered it again to the crowds.
- Matthew 's account seems to be more spiritual (poor in spirit, thirst for righteousness, etc), while Luke's appears to be more physical (poor, hungry, etc). I've read a lot of different explanations of this. I've always thought they were one in the same, with Matthew offering a more exact spiritual description and Luke being more symbolic and vague. But some say that Luke specifically writes about more physical conditions because (a) he tended to write about the "today" and (b) they allowed him to connect with his larger audience who were of differing spiritual beliefs. Others say that one of Luke's agendas was to portray a God that was for the poor and oppressed.
- Matthew lists 8 Beatitudes while Luke lists 4 plus 4 "woes". There could be many reasons for this. If Matthew and Luke are indeed writing about two different sermons, perhaps Jesus used two different "lesson plans". (Just like a teacher today would use two lectures depending on his/her audience) It's also possible that Luke left out some of the Beatitudes to either shorten his chapter while keeping the "overall gist" or to omit those that did not fit as well with his agenda of the "now". Finally, it is possible that Matthew (or Luke for that matter) are adding other common teachings of Jesus into this sermon to make it easier for the reader to link the common theme.
But the most fascinating thing about the Beatitudes, to me, is that they are beautiful and scary at the same time.
They are beautiful because they represent a lesson from our Savior. One that flies in the face of the ruling class during His time and society today. (How wonderful must it have been for the "lower class" of His time to learn that they could get to Paradise?)
They are scary because, despite their almost poetic tone, they represent very real warnings for us. Especially today. We must constantly strive to live for Heaven, not for Earth. To ensure we are doing all we can with what God has given us to do His will. And to remember that God is everywhere, especially in the "least of His people."
And lets face it, sometimes that is more like climbing a mountain than walking on a plain.