17 February 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches
Luke 6:17-26 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=416985523)
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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 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.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “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. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
This isn’t the Beatitudes I’m familiar with.
You mean there are more than one?
There are four Gospels, after all.
Yes, the Beatitudes can also be found in the fifth chapter of Matthew;
But, they are widely different from Luke’s account.
In Matthews account there are 9 Beatitudes and no woes.
Luke reports 4 Beatitudes and 4 woes.
Don’t go looking for the Beatitudes in the Gospels of Mark or John,
Because you won’t find them.
They aren’t there.
Jesus delivers his Beatitudes in Matthew on a mountain top,
And he taught them to a select, exclusive audience:
Only to his disciples.
In contrast to Matthew,
Luke describes Jesus teaching the Beatitudes on a plane,
A flat, expansive region, possibly along the Mediterranean coast.
He teaches to the group of his disciples and a great multitude of people,
Jews and Gentiles alike,
From all over the region.
When Luke makes the effort to spell out
That people from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon are drawn to Jesus,
He is making a theological statement that
People from the other side of the tracks,
People from other races and religions,
People from other ways of life,
People with a different world view
Make up the crowd.
People different from the forever blessed and chosen
Jewish descendents of Abraham
Came to hear him, and
To be healed of their diseases
By the power of his touch.
Jesus comes for everyone, without exclusion.
Again, this is a consistent theological characteristic of Jesus
Uniquely spun into the fabric of Luke.
The implications of this Gospel reality
Is that when ever
or where ever
the Church collectively,
Or we, individually,
become judgmental of people different than us
We are moving ourselves away from Jesus.
Jesus is at the center of a diverse crowd,
And so should we.
That’s where his truth is revealed and people are healed.
Could it be, as many scholars suggest,
That the Beatitudes from Matthew and Luke are similar
Because Jesus preached the same, or similar, message multiple times
To different crowds
In different settings?
I don’t know for certain,
But it makes sense to me.
The underlying message that Jesus is communicating
Is central to the core of his Messianic presence.
God with us fully as Jesus Christ,
Completely human and fully Divine,
Doesn’t equate blessings with salvation.
There is no equating woes with damnation.
There is no hint of judgment to be found.
There is, however,
An upending of expectations;
A reversal of fortunes.
Remember in the opening chapter of Luke,
Mary, the mother of Jesus, makes her proclamation in the Magnificat:
The Mighty One, Luke reports
“has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (1:51-53)
Expectations are upended.
Fortunes are reversed.
Remember earlier in Luke
When Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth to begin his Galilean ministry
He teaches in the Synagogue from the prophet Isaiah.
He stakes out the same ground by reversing fortunes and upending expectations:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me 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.” (4:18-19)
The same upending of expectations and reversal of fortunes
Are woven into Jesus’ sermon on the plane
With his use of blessings and woes.
The least are made great and
The great are made the least.
The Greek word for "blessed" used in the Beatitudes is makarios,
Meaning satisfied, unburdened, at peace.
Satisfied are the poor.
Unburdened are the poor.
The poor are at peace.
Imagine a world where the poor aren’t living paycheck to paycheck,
Struggling to cover all the bills, and
Feed every mouth at the table.
Imagine a world where families don’t flee violence and poverty in waves of immigration to a foreign land.
Imagine a world where the poor are able to simply live out their lives in peace.
It might be hard for us to imagine such a world,
But it’s a vision of God’s kingdom that is crystal clear to Jesus
And he wants everyone in the crowd
To hear and
Understand his vision of Good News.
The Greek word for “woe” used here in Luke is ouai,
Meaning a word of warning,
The same word used by many of the prophets:
Judgment is imminent.
Repent or find yourself lost, trapped, or blindsided.
Gospel is bad news to the rich;
Who have become rich at the expense of the poor.
Here’s your warning, Jesus proclaims;
Judgment is at hand
Take this opportunity to repent of your ways.
Repent, those who are full.
You’re going to learn what real hunger is all about unless you share your abundance with those in want or need.
Because you’re going to get yours.
You think this is funny? Jesus asks.
Repent, Jesus warns with a woe.
Repent or you will find yourselves mourning and weeping.
The woes that Jesus pronounces
Begs each of us to ask
What it is in our lives that blind us,
That traps us with a false sense of security,
That misguides our trust?
Are we blinded by our good health, diet, and exercise routine?
Does a good bill of health from our doctor make us overly confident?
Are the A1C and triglycerides within healthy, normal limits?
Did that EKG indicate you’re good for another 20,000 miles?
Here’s the bad news:
Each of us are one heartbeat and one breath away from catastrophe and death.
Cancer and Alzheimer’s will bankrupt the richest in a New York minute.
Stroke and heart disease can make the
Healthiest, wealthiest, captain of industry
Bedbound in a nursing home for years.
Place your trust with the Immortal,
The God of Creation,
The God who created you.
Follow your doctor’s orders, yes,
but recognize every physician’s mortal limitations.
With Jesus there are no mortal limitations.
Are we blinded by our wealth?
“I don’t need to place my trust in God when I’ve got money in the bank,” it is easy to believe.
Bigger houses, fancier cars, abundance of food and drink
Insulate us to the fact that wealth often
Comes at the expense of others, or,
When our God given generous hearts turn cold.
We see the need but fail to act.
Are we trapped by our own ego and popularity?
Woe to you, Jesus warns,
“Don’t place your trust in anything: health, wealth, or status.
Repent of your ways.
Place your trust in God.”
The message this diverse, hodgepodge crowd
Was drawn to hear
Was blessings and woes.
But they were also drawn by the power of his touch
That came out from him
And healed them all. (6:19)
The only way to touch Jesus is to be at the center of the crowd,
Making ourselves as close to Christ as we possibly can get.
That’s where the power of healing is at.
That’s where unclean spirits are exercised.
That’s where Good News is proclaimed
and the fortunes of this world are upended with the eternal fortunes of our loving God.
Are you close enough to Jesus to feel his power,
To experience his healing touch,
To see the depth and breadth of God’s grace and love for the world?
If not, why not?
If you are,
Be at peace.