“Woes or Blessings”

Luke 6:17-26, February 13th, 2022

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Read Statement of Faith

“Hear the words of scripture from the gospel according to Luke, chapter six, verses seventeen thru twenty-six.”

Luke 6:17-26

17 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. 

18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

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.

“Having listen to the teaching surrounding blessings and woes, let us seek to come to understand their meaning, especially now in this challenging time in history.”

“Woes or Blessings”

As we begin to look at this passage, we may start to see that there are some clear similarities between this writing and the passage in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter five.  Most of us know that writing as the Beatitudes and there are nine verses of the blessed, twelve verses of the account. Matthew 5:1-12 1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 20 in Luke’s gospel) 4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Verse 21b in Luke) 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Verse 21a in Luke) 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Verse 22 in Luke)12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Verse 23 in Luke) There is only a mention to five of the nine blessed as referenced in the Beatitudes. 

But did you make note of the Woes? There are four woes, or warnings from this teaching coming from the mouth of Jesus. Woe to the rich. Woe to those who are full now. Woe to those who laugh now. Woe to you when others speak well of you. What is going on here, did Luke not get the full message of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which started with the Beatitudes’ nine references to the blessed? And why didn’t we get these writing about the woes in Matthews Gospel? Did Matthew get it wrong? Or did Luke not get the memo about the other four blessed ones? And why didn’t Matthew make-reference to the woes!?  Seems like Jesus had a sermon he wanted others to hear. We are, however, left with the question surrounding these two different teachings.  And we must now seek out what message Jesus was truly putting forth in today’s lesson, today’s words from the teachings of Jesus.

As we dig deeper, we first need to acknowledge the possibility that Jesus preached two different lessons, possible at separate times to different crowds. Also, we need to accept that He did not have a lap top computer with a thesaurus and a spell checker and a Wi-Fi connection to the internet – to check which of his sermons he had preached over the last few years.  Fact is he did not even have an old mechanical Underwood typewriter, like my grandfather had to write his sermons, back in the early Twentieth-Century. My Homiletics professor who taught me the basics about preaching, thirty years ago, would be horrified to think no one even proofed his writings for grammar and spelling! Truly, we must concede that it is possible the folks who collaborated with the writer of Luke’s gospel… did not hear about the sermon Jesus gave that had all nine blessed saying; and that Matthew did not know anyone who told him about Jesus’ teaching about the four woes? The answer, of course is “we don’t really know for sure!” Try telling your science professor you are not, really, sure whether the chicken came before the egg! Try telling scholars that it is ok if… if we never discover the answers to all questions and thus, we are ‘compelled’ to accept ‘some’ points of history – on common sense and a bit of faith.

What we do know is that a great deal of effort has gone into preserving all four of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Therefore, we need to learn from these writings all we can, about the teachings of Jesus. As we look to this lesson, we do know that Jesus was making new sermon points which we need to take heed to. Yes, we need pay attention to the new input this passage gives us. Take for instance the reference to “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” in verse twenty from Luke’s account. Is this truly the same as ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” from verse three in Matthew.  No, it is not, being poor verses being poor in spirit are different. You and I, we have met more than one or two ‘poor’ ‘destitute’ folks, who had extremely optimistic upbeat spirits. And yes, they are truly the blessed ones! Could it be Jesus was trying to make his remarks more contemporary and real for those he spoke to that day? I am sure you have noticed, that as a preacher, I do now and then I refer to an event which I have used before, and then raise up a different aspect of it to make a separate point.  Yes, I really do that. 

What about the addition to the word now in Luke’s blessed ones? “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Verse Luke 5:21b) Why the focus on now? Surely Luke was pushing the point that you can be weeping, mourning, and grieving now… but wait for it! Yes, something comes after! The verse in our lesson actually-says after the comma, you will laugh! Was Jesus being a motivational speaker, or was he being a grief counselor as he spoke that day. One could conclude that Jesus was both, motivational speaker, and grief counselor. We know, from the gospels, that Jesus was clearly loving, kind and compassionate.  He surely did not miss the pain and hurt in the lives of the people he was trying to reach way back then in Palestine; especially throughout Judea, including the region surrounding the sea of Galilee and Jerusalem. Was Jesus simply saying to the poor, the grief stricken and the hunger, and to the persecuted that “this is true now, but better times are coming, so hang in there. Have faith, God has not forgotten you!” Yes, it does seem plausible does it not!? Especially when you consider that he was speaking to a different crowd on – another day. Therefore, for our purposes we can read this passage knowing Jesus was speaking to us NOW. Jesus is speaking to the hungry, who need food, nourishment today! And Jesus is here now, for those that need the help, seeking out their next meal, right now! Those that are poor can know – Jesus cares about them NOW! Christ is still, right now, advocating for the persecuted! God through Christ is here with those who are suffering with grief, due to having lost a loved one, right now! When we read our lesson from Luke’s gospel this way, Jesus’ compassion, and concern for us is more personal, and more current in our lives today!

Yet, Jesus was also a realist, for he saw our humanness, and he sees our assets and our deficits more fully, in real time right now! Thus, Jesus spoke of woes! In verse twenty-four in our reading from Luke He says, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Let us stop here for a moment. We have studied a ‘number of’ passages surrounding the issue of being rich.  And each time we have concluded that Jesus was not condemning rich folks or families who have worked hard and thereby have become rich prosperous folks; especially, the people who have also a kind, generous and compassionate heart. However, Jesus’ teachings strongly suggests that there are those who are not.  We must see this sentence as a ‘warning’ to those who have done well. Jesus wants us to focus on the needs of others.  If your wealth is an altar – which you worship, well that is a problem. And if you stepped on your fellows, or you need to push people aside, to get to where you are, that’s not what Jesus wants you to do. Jesus wants us to share our abundance with the needy. The gospel teachings speak to the need to embrace others as they are – without bias or prejudice. If we have become caring people who seek to be of service to the ministry of Christ, we also must be there for others, just as Jesus taught, whether we have wealth or not!     

The second, third, and fourth woes are also warnings.  Jesus is putting us all on alert, that if we sit back and have our pantries full of supplies, and we have everything we need and want – we will one day be hungry. Remember the old saying “What goes around, comes around!” If we just sit back and not see our neighbor’s plight as our own, they will not see our plight as their responsibility either. Jesus goes on to say that if you are laughing now, while others are mourning, you will one day also weep and grieve your losses, material and personal!  The last woe is simply saying that if your ultimate concern is in how others think of you, your focused on the wrong thing. Even support groups have come to recognize the importance of this very practical message. If our egos are in our number one or even our top five priorities, we are way too self-absorbed. If we find balance in our priorities in life and chose to be grateful for all we have, as we also put our effort into focusing on the needs of others around us, while seeking guidance from God; if we do all this, we shall be one of the blessed – in the eyes of our God! May God bless us all!

Amen. 

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