Luke 6: 17 – 26 Blessings and woes
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’
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There are several things that strike me as I read the first paragraph.
The first is that preaching and teaching go hand in hand with healing. People had flocked to Jesus because, as St Luke puts it, “(they) had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.” Question – do we see this link between teaching and healing today?
The second thing is the abundance of power. The power flowing from Jesus was so great that people were trying to touch him. A single touch was enough to heal them. This sounds as though if they didn’t touch Jesus, they weren’t healed. Now we know Jesus healed people at a distance, so why didn’t he heal all the people who had come to hear him? Was it because it was necessary for those who had been healed to be able to say for certain that it was Jesus who had healed them, and that to have touched him was the guarantee of that?
Which brings me to a third thought. Were the healings done out of compassion for the sick or so that the healed would bear witness to Jesus?
When we pray for healing, it tends to be out of our human distress. Is that why we so rarely see miraculous healings?
Moving on to the next paragraph, the blessings are fairly straightforward. The fourth blessing has a condition attached. The blessing is for those who are persecuted because they love Jesus and bear witness to him.
The first three blessings have no conditions. They are unconditional. Those who have suffered will be recompensed. The order of this world is not immutable. Those who suffer, for whatever reason, will be given consolation in heaven.
But what about the woes?
While I am not rich by the standards of the society in which I live, I’m not poor, and by comparison with most of the world I guess you could say I’m rich. I’m well fed. I have enjoyed much happiness in my life.
Woe to me?
I certainly take this as a warning.
Perhaps these are the key verses:
- Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (verses 22 – 23)
- Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’ (verse 26)
The prophets about whom Jesus spoke approvingly were men like Amos, who pointed out the great injustice and exploitation that went on in Israel. They called the nation to repentance, pointing out that disaster would follow unless the nation changed its ways.
The false prophets were men like Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who denounced Amos saying that he was raising a conspiracy in the very heart of Israel. Amaziah had Amos expelled from Israel back to Judah in an attempt to silence him.
Jesus is telling us that the prophets were right. We cannot run a society based on greed, dishonesty and exploitation. However, note that he is not saying that enjoying good things is wrong in itself. Look, for example, at the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1 – 11) or the banquet prepared for Jesus by Levi (Luke 5: 29).
I think that as a Christian, I need to be aware of the injustices that are built in to the world, and to speak out against them. I need to live my life in line with God’s values. Probably I should be far more generous in supporting the poor. After all, why should I eat my fill every day when so many go hungry?
I find this hard teaching…
Thank you for the blessings I have enjoyed. Please help me to be more generous to those in need. Help me to be more effective in advocacy of the poor and exploited.
In Jesus name, Amen.