Have you ever listened or read that list of those who are blessed and think, “Really God? Blessed?” And so I have been pondering how the word blessings and what being blessed means all week. I used to end my emails with ‘Blessings.’ We say that something is a blessing to us. We say ‘Bless you’ when someone sneezes. We usually view blessings as positive things… or we say something was a blessing in disguise.
The Tuesday study group had a great discussion about blessings and luck! Do we view our circumstances as God’s favour? Even when our circumstances are often nothing much beyond being born into the family/community/country that we are.
And then we read this passage… and none of it sounds like something we would welcome… they are very well disguised blessings. Various translations of the Bible use ‘happy’ rather than blessed. Others use the term ‘God blesses those…’ Which doesn’t so much good to redeem this passage. One of the challenges of reading the Bible is that we are not reading it in the original language.
According to Social Science Commentary, “blessed” could more accurately be translated “honoured” are you. The writers of that commentary argue that Jesus lived in a ‘shame/honor’ society… and that Jesus was announcing that those gathered (the shameful ones of society) were actually the recipients of God’s honor. If you think of whom Jesus often associated with… tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and so on… certainly not the honoured ones of society. So in effect, he was saying that how society viewed them was not how God viewed them. That in God’s eyes, they were honoured.
Listen to Jesus words and if you can, every time you hear ‘blessed’ replace it with ‘honoured.’
6:17 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.
6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Are any of us poor? Have you been poor? Would you willingly go back to it? Not me!
It felt shameful… as if I had done something wrong… and yet, I wound up poor by circumstances beyond my control. And I hid it the best I could.
Jesus is speaking to the poor in his time… telling them of a time when the roles would be reversed.
6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Have you ever been hungry… that aching, gnawing presence that doesn’t allow you to concentrate on anything else? How can that be a blessing? We can’t call that a blessing can we? Perhaps only if we remember a blessing is not good fortune, but honour. There is no shame in being hungry… and I imagine that most of us would do just about anything to feed our loved ones. Things that the world might claim are shameful and without honour, but there is shame and dishonour in ignoring the hungry.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Those of you who have been to a funeral I have presided over may have heard me use a favourite reading by Regina Coupar, she is a writer, artist and theologian and wrote this:
If you want to be comforted you must mourn. Life lived on a superficial level guarantees that we will not hurt too deeply, or enjoy anything too much. By avoiding extremes, many feel life will be more harmonious. This may be so, but a greater danger lies in life becoming mediocre. It is the highs of life that fill us with energy and enthusiasm, and the lows which return us to humility through a realistic view of our abilities. Real comfort can only be felt by those who are able to receive it. Without grief we have no need to be comforted. If our pain has been restricted to a surface level, our comfort will also be superficial. If we want to be truly comforted, we must admit our pain: physical, emotional, and spiritual. When we mourn from the depths of our being, we open our wounds to receive healing. The deeper the wound, the greater the cavity created which is capable of holding God’s comfort. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
I can’t say I have ever been reviled or persecuted because of my belief in God and the teachings of Jesus… but I have been excluded… I have been pigeon-holed… I have been subjected to rants about how the church does nothing good… and that being spiritual but not religious is somehow better than being spiritual AND religious.
6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
The ‘woes’ are what is hard for us to hear aren’t they? We are so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as people of scarcity, we can hardly imagine that compared to most of the world, we have SUCH abundance!
I did a quick Google search on ‘How Rich Am I? And discovered that according to the combined income that Woody and I have, we are in the top 30% of earners in Canada! (http://www.compareyourincome.org/income_inequality_in_canada) And Woody and I are not rich… we do not have a terribly extravagant lifestyle and yet, we have abundance that it almost beyond belief.
And if we do an income comparison with the rest of the world, we are in the top 3% of income earners… looked at it another way, 97% of the ENTIRE world live on less than what we do. https://www.givingwhatwecan.org)
Much of Luke’s gospel is about a reversal of world order… that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be when we realize that we are the rich! Our ‘woes’ can be anything that prevents us from following Jesus. And that could be anything!
Woe to us who have fresh, clean water when the First Nations people often do not. Woe to us who spend more on vacations than we do in alleviating suffering. Woe to us who throw away food that is spoiled when 1 in 8 children in this country go hungry. Woe to us as church people, when we are more concerned abut having a church building than being the church.
Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy. A world turned upside down.
A message that is so uncomfortable that we close our ears to it.
Theologian Dr. Renita Weems notes the desperation of the crowd that day on the plain, “eager to sign on to any revolution that promises them a share in the world in which they live.” She then offers a thoughtful reflection on what we ourselves might be desperate for, and names one possiblity: certitude.
We want to know, for sure, exactly what we have to do or say or believe. We want “to know for certain that in following Jesus [we] are on the right path.” Weems notes, however, that no one can offer that kind of certitude; instead, as in every age past, we are offered “a way, a journey of faith.”
In these texts on discipleship and teaching and crowds that hunger for good news, that is the underlying lesson for us in this Epiphany season, the season of manifestation.
We are shown who Jesus is, God’s own Beloved, we hear the Good News he brings, but we are also called to respond, and to follow in the way of blessing, not woe. How we respond, how we live, what we do, matters. (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2089)
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Blessings and Woes – Part 1
Luke 6: 17-26
February 17, 2019
Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry