Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blessings and Woes


The beatitudes that Jesus pronounces in Luke 6:20-26 are quite different from the more familiar ones in Matthew's Gospel. The most noticeable difference is that there are only four and they are accompanied by "woes." Those in Matthew are usually treated as prescriptions for a happy life in union with God, a kind of New Testament Ten Commandments.
Luke, on the other hand, integrates beatitudes better into his narrative by continuing themes from Mary's hymn when she visits Elizabeth and from Jesus' first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. He presents Jesus bringing good news to people already poor and hungry and grieving and pushed to the margins of society. Jesus isn't prescribing anything for them to do. God will bless them with a reversal of their luck. God will gather them into a lasting, loving embrace. They will become the in-crowd.
If there is anything prescriptive in Luke's passage, it is the "woes." Jesus warns the rich and full and happy and well thought of that they risk becoming self-satisfied and content with things as they are and fail to see the need for growing in their relationship with God. They could become the outsiders.
Jesus is not encouraging us to make ourselves poor and hungry and sad (one of the major themes of Luke's Gospel is joy.) Jesus is warning us that by having enough we may stop at that and and fail to run the risks needed to grow in our relationship with God.
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