Sermon text: Luke 6: 17-26
My bible calls this section of Luke’s Gospel “Blessings and Woes.” The similar section found in Matthew’s Gospel is well known as The Beatitudes. Quite simply, in the Kingdom of God these folks are holy, consecrated, happy, content, favored, and fortunate. And these folks are not. There will be a reversal, or at the very least there will be a leveling. Jesus’ words go hand and hand with the words his mother sang:
God has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
It is clear that a world, kingdom, or realm shaped by God will look much different from how we shape the world ourselves. And, at face value, it seems that Jesus’ good news for the poor is tough news for those who are not poor.
I’ll be honest, even though I’m not wealthy, as a person who, from a perspective of the total world population is considered rich, fed, laughing, and in decent regard, I have questions for Jesus, and I bet you do too.
The question that jumps to the top of my list is, “Why, Jesus, do you want us to be so miserable? Why is it a blessing to be poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed? Is it truly better to be these things?”
Bobby was a boy in my grade in elementary school. His currency wasn’t popularity, it was notoriety. He had questionable hygiene habits—he was always dirty and a little bit smelly. He acted out in class. He could be loud. He presumably came from a poor family. He was often at odds with the other students and the teachers. And while I don’t particularly remember him being bullied, he was certainly put on the margins of our class. People kept him at arm’s length.
Bobby was most everything that Jesus looked at and called blessed. His is the Kingdom of God. He will be filled. He will laugh. His reward in heaven will be great. I’m sure you all grew up with a Bobby of your very own in school. And even though he did fit the bill of Jesus’ blessings, I wonder, would anyone dare trade places with him? Can I look back and see the Kingdom of God at hand, or is it simply a situation a wouldn’t wish on any child?
Why is it that the “woes” sound so much more favorable, even as Jesus warns against them? What harm is there in being rich or full or laughing or seen in high regard? Don’t we want these things? Don’t we work for these things? Isn’t this part of the American Dream? Why the woes, Jesus?
Woe is an interjection. And to quote School House Rock (https://youtu.be/YQ0696UhWrc) :
Interjections show excitement or emotion
They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.
So when you’re happy Hooray!
Or sad Aw!
Or frightened Eeeek!
Or mad Rats!
Or excited Wow!
Or glad Hey!
An interjection starts a sentence right.
When you start a sentence with “Woe,” the interjection is declaring a warning to the people. Woe is the word of a prophet. It’s Isaiah proclaiming, “Woe to you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who but bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Woe does not necessarily mean judgment or damnation, but it is an attention-getter to offer a word of caution.
And here, like in so many place in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is saying, “Wake up and change your ways.” There’s a presupposition that the ones given the woes only think about themselves. That they don’t have a need for God’s comfort because they are already comfortable. In Luke, riches are viewed as a distraction from the ways of God, so there is a call to wake up and change. Wake up and live with attention and generosity toward your neighbor, as God is attentive and generous toward you.
Here, Jesus announces that God is creating a kingdom from the same power that emanated from him and healed the people. A kingdom where no one is hungry. Where no one is mourning. A kingdom without poverty. A kingdom where no one is disregarded. A kingdom that finds all the Bobbys of the world in the center without everyone else, and not on the outskirts.
As for the blessings of Jesus, theses words are not a motivation for us to become miserable, but they are words of hope. Jesus is making promises to those who suffer, saying, “I see you. God sees you. And I still love you and I intend for you to thrive.”
We believe that Jesus is still watching out for us, that God still desires for us to experience the fullness of life. So in this period of long suffering and endurance, I say to you:
Blessed are you who are languishing, for you will be refreshed.
Blessed are you who are exhausted, for you will be renewed.
Blessed are you who are empty, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who are lonely, for you will be loved.
Blessed are you who are grieving, for you will be consoled.
Blessed are you who are hurt, for you will be made whole.
Blessed are you who are frightened or frustrated or numb or overwhelmed, for God is by your side.
Yours is the Kingdom. You will be filled. You will laugh. Great is your reward in heaven. If we just but have the courage to admit and wear those labels, that we do have these imperfections in our lives, then we see the never-failing presence of God and the blessings we have been promised. AMEN