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. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 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.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
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.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26 NRSV)
We need a lot of perspective on this text. A whole lot.
To begin with, we need to know where Jesus came down “from.” He came down from a mountain where he had spent the night in prayer with God. The following morning he called his disciples and chose the inner circle of apostles. Apostles would be the “sent ones.” Thus begins some 100 verses of teachings for these sent ones and anyone else interested enough to listen.
He came down with his disciples and apostles to a level place. A place on the same level of those he served. A place where Emmanuel could demonstrate the truth of “God with Us.” He came down to this level place to find people from far and wide who were waiting to be taught and to be healed.
Jesus reverses the expectations. First he heals. How we can we hear what he has to say if we’re in pain or suffering? How can we take in the Spirit’s words when unclean spirits are in the way? First he heals. Then he teaches.
He looked up at his disciples. And now, God’s eyes are on them. God’s eyes will remain on them. The disciples (now apostles) will be seen by God.
The next expectation is the message itself. Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full. Blessed are the weeping, woe to the laughing. Blessed are the hated, woe to the well spoken of.
I’ve known no hunger in my life. I have known periods of not being able to pay the bills, but not real poverty. I’ve wept and I’ve laughed. There’s a list of people who I don’t particular like and I wouldn’t be surprised if some outright hated me.
I wonder if many of you are nodding your heads. So are we blessed? Or are we facing woes?
Jesus tells us to rejoice and leap for joy because your reward is great in heaven. So, if you’re poor and needy and weeping, etc., hang in there. Heaven is coming. Some day you’ll be in a better place.
That can’t be right. That can’t be what Jesus means. And here’s why. Nowhere in scripture does it say that we’re NOT involved with God. We are intricately involved with God and God with us. We’re reminded over and over again that the poor are always with us; that wealth of any kind is treacherous and will be our undoing if we aren’t extremely careful; that we can’t serve two masters and survive.
Scripture reminds repeatedly to give alms; to open our hands to the poor and needy; not to allow anyone to go to bed hungry; that when we turn our backs on those in need of any kind, shame on us!
If Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted, then he can rejoice: I’m truly afflicted.
Jewish and Christian tradition refuse to see the poor and hungry as cursed. Nor are they considered impure. Think about the homeless guy you encountered. Did you cross the street to the other side? How about the woman panhandling at the traffic light? Did you avert your eyes?
Jesus announced in his hometown that his mission statement was to “bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19b NRSV)
Every action, every step, every prayer, every healing ties back to this mission statement he borrowed from Isaiah. In his blessings and woes, he’s raising the poor and hungry and weeping and hated to his level. He’s raising them up and he’s pointing us in their direction.
And he’s saying to the rich and full and laughing and well spoken of, “Shame on you if you’re not doing anything about this!”
Sometimes we cross the road to avoid the homeless or we avert our eyes from the woman at the stop light. But, dear reader, I also trust that you write checks often to help others help these very folks. I know that you keep them in prayer, even as you cross the street and avert your eyes. And there are times when you approach with a smile, a prayer and some money to help them. And perhaps you even notice in that split second occurrence the sense of God’s grace touching both of you.
Jeremiah says it best. “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NRSV)
I have a picture of a tree that has stood on the edge of a lake for more than 50 years. It stands about ten feet above the beach with half of its roots bared. Even so, they are entwined with each other and have dug into the sandy shore. This tree has withstood high water and drought, wind, extremes of temperatures, even kids climbing its branches.
That tree reminds me of Jeremiah’s encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, our roots grow deep and our bank accounts become secondary; we entwine our roots with those who also trust God and we work together for the God’s kingdom. Most of all, we are able to find joy even in our weeping.
When Jesus lifted his gaze to his disciples he began to teach them that the world is upside down and inside out when compared to the kingdom of God. So, when you feel hated or excluded or hungry, know that God sees it and blesses it. God knows all about it. Lean into God. Trust.
Because you’ve just had a glimpse of the world as it really is. And it pales in comparison with God’s intent.
All glory and honor be to God.