February 12, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 6:20-26 (NRSV)
Then he looked 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.”
What makes us #blessed or #cursed is not whether we have money, fame, and a good reputation. What makes us #blessed is the presence of the Lord. And in that we should rejoice.
Yesterday, as we pondered Paul’s theological musings on the Risen Christ, I mentioned that there are theological statements in the Gospels. Sometimes, though, they look a little different than Paul’s algebra problems. In the three “synoptic” Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom is given through parables and prophecies and sayings which are different to understand. “Synoptic,” by the way, comes from the Greek word “synopsis”—which we still use in English to mean a plot summary; it means “seeing something all together,” and we use it for these three Gospels which share many stories and have a similar organization. (The Gospel of John is a little different, of course—Jesus talks about theology much more explicitly in John, and so does John the Gospel writer.)
In fact, these blessings and woes may have sounded familiar to you because this isn’t the only Gospel where they appear. This particular address of Jesus’s is often called the “Sermon on the Plain” because Luke 6:17 says that Jesus is speaking to the crowd, especially his disciples, from a “level place.” But like many good preachers Jesus seems to have reused his stories sometimes—Luke 6:20-26 resembles the beginning of the more famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12)—with the notable addition of all those “woes,” of course.
The Beatitudes (as this set of blessings has come to be known from their Latin translation, which begins Beati sunt) are, as people used to say when I was younger, “downers.” They are not for those moments in life when we already feel “#blessed,” as the hashtag on Instagram has it—for the days when everything goes well and we enjoy our happy homes and our pleasant devotional times and our nice cups of tea.
They are for those who are hungry, sad, persecuted, defamed, and poor—with a deep promise that Christ will be faithful to us in those moments and that we stand in the same heritage as the prophets and martyrs. It is to those who are #blessed in the Instagram sense that Jesus’s prophesied woes come. If we are comfortable, happy, rich, and thought well of, maybe should instead be using the hashtag #cursed.
I need to say that this passage of Scripture has been abused to tell people that they can never enjoy anything about their life and they are only following God if they do painful and difficult things. We are sometimes called to the difficult and the dark, but we are also called to exercise the gifts God has given us and encouraged to joy and take delight in the Lord. But Jesus is still making a crucial point here. What makes us #blessed or #cursed is not money, fame, and a good reputation. As a friend of mine, Aelred Dean, said on Facebook recently:
The fact is, as Christians, we are all blessed: with the love of God the Father, with the salvation brought to us through the sacrifice of Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. By all means, if you get the promotion, give thanks to the Lord. But if you don’t, give thanks to the Lord as well. Ask for wisdom, discernment, and strength, not more stuff. And don’t for a minute think that because you didn’t get something you wanted, you’re not blessed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What makes us #blessed is the presence of the Lord And in that, Jesus preaches in this sermon, we should rejoice.
How have you been blessed—really blessed?
How can you bless others?
Among those writing songs for Roman Catholic worship since Vatican II are the “St. Louis Jesuits”—Jesuit brothers and priests from St. Louis University. Here is a recording of one of their most famous songs, “Be Not Afraid,” based on the Beatitudes and on Isaiah 43, which we considered a few weeks ago.
This recording was made by Catholic worship leaders (including the song’s composer, Bob Dutton) in 2020 during the early part of the COVID pandemic. Listen, and hear God speaking to you that he will be with you always.
Lord, bless me to bless others. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Concern for the Wealthy (Luke 6:25; 12:13-21; 18:18-30)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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