If I were a pastor that titled sermons, I would name this one “#blessed.” It’s a phrase that is very popular right now - walk down any home decor aisle and you will likely see various ways of displaying the phrase.
It is a word, like most words, that has evolved in meaning as culture has evolved. To say that someone is “blessed,” could refer to them being successful in their job or ministry - it could also refer to their feeling “blessed by God” with good friends and family.
Interestingly, the Greek word used here could be translated “happy.” “Happy are you who are hungry now.” Does that sound right? Not to our ears! When I’m hungry, I’m (what some may call) hangry, not happy!
The word used here, which is translated to “blessed,” was a word that evolved in the culture as well. At different times, it was used to referred to the gods, the elite in society, and even those people who had already died, as they were relieved from the stress of this world. In every instance, though, it was used in reference to a being or person who “lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries” of the world. (http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/allsaintb.htm)
And, yet, this is the word Jesus uses to address the poor, the hungry, the depressed, the persecuted. They are the people who should be at the bottom of society, according to the earthly kingdom.
Not so in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, these people are the blessed. They are the favored. It is another example of Jesus inverting the world’s standards and teaching us about God’s standards. Those who are last shall be first and the first shall be last.
These verses remind us that God’s focus, Jesus’ divine message, was on helping people in society who are “without.” Whether that is without food or without lodging or without encouragement or without love, Christ’s followers are called to help - called to help the “without”s become the “with”s.
Kathryn Matthews puts it this way: “God’s perspective, it seems clear from Scripture, is a compassionate gaze upon those most in need, those most vulnerable, those without the power to improve their lot.” (ucc.org, Sermon Seeds) The poor are favored because they, for a variety of reasons, are not able to participate in the intended equity of God’s kingdom.
They are not inherently better - morally or any other way. Likewise, we who have food, lodging, encouragement, and love are not above others! We are simply in a position to assist, because of our life circumstances.
All people have equal worth to have life’s needs filled.
The unique opportunity we have here in reading Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is hearing the rest of the verses - the woes, or warnings.
They certainly caught my attention! We have full bellies! We have money! We love to laugh! We have good reputations!
And you may be thinking “speak for yourself, there, pastor” on some of those statements, but relatively speaking - most of us here have financial resources (even if they are thin and stressed at times), we have food (I’m sure many of us ate breakfast or will eat shortly after worship today), we have laughter (I haven’t met one person here who doesn’t like to laugh), people speak well of us (most of us ;) ).
What are we to do with these verses about woes? Get rid of every possession? Refuse to giggle? No. We are to share them. Albert Camus said, “You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them.”
Kathryn Matthews points out that “the ‘woes’ say that God examines the human state of affairs and is displeased.” She goes on to say that “it’s tempting to comfortable Christians to resent liberation theologians who speak of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor,’” but we cannot deny Jesus’ attention to those who are without and that we are called to help.
These woes remind us that we who “have” right now, could one day be those “without.”
Matthew’s gospel has a version of this story as well - it’s known as the Sermon on the Mount - where Jesus was on a mountain side speaking to the people. What I love about Luke’s version of this story, sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, is that Jesus “came down with them and stood on level ground,” suggesting to me that they were on eye level with one another. Additionally, Jesus’ words in Luke are “blessed are YOU,” talking directly to the people. In Matthew, the wording is “blessed are THEY” - not quite as direct.
Luke’s Gospel highlights the connection and intimacy of Jesus speaking to the group of people - “blessed are you” and “woe to you.” The group did not only consist of the poor or outcast. The group of people gathered must have been a diverse group - both those who are blessed and those receiving a warning.
It’s a message from Jesus to God’s people about working together, recognizing the balance in life, knowing that no one is above experiencing troublesome times and knowing that all are worthy to experience God’s promises.
It is up to everyone present to work toward God’s kingdom. As David Holwerda writes, “The shape of God’s future must shape our present.”
We can think of many ways to work for God’s future - for the fair treatment and love of all. I leave you with this rewrite of the Beatitudes, by Roddy Hamilton, reflecting on ways for the incorporation of all those blessings:
Blessed are you who make room at your table
for in that way even tax-collectors shall be redeemed
Blessed are you who seek out lost sheep
for in your seeking you find more than a lamb
Blessed are you who touch the leper
for you make a home for the excluded
Blessed are you who welcome the prodigal
for you express the fullness of the love that is God
Blessed are the silenced
for you hear the cry of God
Blessed are you who make friends with your enemy
for you know the way to lasting peace
Blessed are you who turn the other cheek
for you show more strength than the oppressor
Blessed are you who break bread with the stranger
for you will have a foretaste of the kingdom
Blessed are you who heal on the Sabbath
for you will reveal what is important to God
Blessed are you who seek company with the outcast and unclean
for you shall be accompanying Jesus
Blessed are you who overturn the tables
you are the freedom fighters of love
Blessed are you who love your neighbour
for you already live in the realm of God
Blessed are you who walk the way
for you shall move within the company of heaven
Blessed are you who carry a cross
for you shall see God’s wisdom
Blessed are you who wait for the morning
for you shall see the renewal of life
~ written by Roddy Hamilton, and posted on Mucky Paws.
Scripture: Luke 6:17-26