Blessings and Woe: For Everything There is a Season

This past Sunday our Gospel reading was Luke 6:17-26. After a short preamble, Jesus begins his “sermon on the plain.”

Jesus teaching. Gospel Lectionary, Use of Paris (‘Quatrième Évangéliaire de la Sainte-Chapelle’)
France, Central (Paris); c. 1285-1290

6:20 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 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.”

The passage is no doubt familiar to most of us. This teaching is usually understood as a fairly straight forward teaching about what is good and evil. We are encouraged that being poor (materially and spiritually), hungry (materially and spiritually), grieving, and being hated is temporary. Our ultimate reward “is great in heaven.” Conversely, those who are rich (always materially), full, happy, and well regarded should be warned! That is all you are going to get.

Listening to the passage being read by our rector in the service on Sunday, I heard this comfortable, familiar teaching in a different way. Rather than being a clear-cut teaching of what blessed and cursed, Jesus is describing where all of us find ourselves at one time or another.

For those who are poor, hungry, and sad he says, “it will not last!” We must not allow ourselves to despair, because while such hardships are a part of this life they are not our ultimate destination, we will not remain stuck in this moment forever. Those who are faithful to God will be blessed beyond anything of this world in the Kingdom of God.

On the other hand, all of us have some moments of joy, wealth, and satisfaction. The risk is in believing that such is the true nature of this world and diminishing the value of the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be stuck in that moment either, the moment of contentment and success.

Life is full of “weal and woe,” as Jeremiah reminds us. The good will come and the bad too. We must not dwell in the depths of despair nor be fooled into thinking the heights are any closer to heaven.

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