February 13, 2022

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Weekly Prayer Recording

In the Year of the Lord’s Favor

The Reverend Linda Mackie Griggs 

Epiphany 6 Year C      

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Luke 6:17-26

Recording of the sermon:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

… woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation…

These are not what you would call the ideal Sunday School Beatitudes. Or at least they aren’t the ones I remember. When I was in Church School we only ever learned the Matthew version; eight blesseds and no woes. We learned that if someone (including ourselves) were troubled or sad or yearning or persecuted they would be blessed by God. We learned that if we were meek or merciful or peacemakers or

pure in heart (whatever that meant) we would be rewarded in heaven. The Beatitudes were only challenging in an aspirational way—they called us to be kind, compassionate and loving—and even sometimes courageous—and they offered God’s reward in the hereafter. In short, Matthew’s Beatitudes comforted the afflicted. 

Whereas Luke’s Beatitudes— 

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

…woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry…

 —afflict the comfortable.

This is a bleak prospect for comfortable Christians who are privileged and often generous and who, as we say, “do what good people do.” How are we to respond to Jesus’ accusing gaze as we stand in the crowd? What are we to make of this?

In all likelihood Matthew and Luke worked from the same anonymous source, but here they offer contrasting perspectives, even to the point of setting the scenes differently—Matthew sets Jesus up on a mountain, while Luke locates him on a plain. There is plenty to say and preach about both versions, and while I did make light of Matthew’s version, there is plenty of meat there, just not for today. Today we’re all about the blessings–and woes–of Luke.

Luke’s intention in this passage is entirely consistent with his project to depict Jesus as the New Moses—deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and in God’s promises to Israel—while at the same time broadening the story of salvation to include all of God’s people.

According to biblical scholar Julia Van den Brink, Luke’s use of blessings and woes is a deliberate outgrowth of an Old Testament tradition of antithetical covenant blessings and curses, but with a Gospel twist, and what it offers us is actually an invigorating challenge and invitation to us as individuals and as the Body of Christ.

Just as Moses stood on the Plains of Moab and spoke to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, Jesus, in Luke’s signature transition strategy, 

has come down from the mountain after a night of prayer, and stands on the plain among a crowd of his followers and a multitude of people from near and far. 

Like Moses, Jesus stands at a threshold of promise—at the liminal boundary of the Kingdom of God. And his words are a distant echo of covenant relationship from the time of the patriarchs, when God made this promise to Abram:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Blessings and curses. Those who are outside of the covenant don’t know it, 

but they have a choice to make.  If they are good to this incipient nation of covenant people, they will receive blessings. If not, they will be cursed. The thing that is distinctive about this relationship of blessings and curses, which will recur throughout the patriarchal period, is that the focus of this covenant is protection of the vulnerable people of God from those who are outside of the covenant. 

Whereas the covenant with Moses and the Israelites will be all about obedience

In the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy God, through Moses, presents the Israelites with a choice; faithful relationship with God, or rejection of the One who created and liberated them. Over the course of 68 verses Moses details parallel conditional blessings and curses; a series of rewards for obedience followed by a series of punishments for disobedience. The blessings progressively detail Israel’s rise to prosperity, well-being and greatness under God’s blessing, while the curses likewise detail Israel’s descent to ruin and exile in the event of God’s rejection.

The contrast is vivid:

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you… The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways.”  


“The Lord will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.


Obedience or disobedience, blessing or disaster. 

In Chapter 30 Moses will make the choice crystal clear: 

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God…”

This pattern of parallel antithetical blessings and curses appears throughout the Hebrew Scriptures—we heard it this morning in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah—“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals…”; “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord…”  

These blessings and curses lay out the choice between prosperity and ruin, well-being and distress, in a clear binary: If you have wealth and all-around good fortune, you have been blessed. If you are poor and suffering, you have been cursed. (This is characteristic of present-day so-called prosperity gospel.) But the Wisdom literature, which includes the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, persistently questions this binary, pointing out that the faithful righteous are often as not the poor, the marginalized, and the downtrodden who are victims of those who are wealthy, connected and powerful—those whom the Deuteronomic writers declared to be blessed by God.

So, we have blessings and curses for protection of God’s people under the covenant with Abraham, blessings and curses calling for obedience under the covenant with Moses, and the Wisdom writers observing real-life experience and interrogating the models of exactly what it means to be blessed, or cursed.  

Luke absorbs all of this, and realigns it in the context of the Dream of God; acknowledging Wisdom reality while at the same time utilizing a covenant framework that resonates with his audience. Jesus speaks blessings and curses 

as blessings and woes, inviting his hearers on the Plain into a new Covenant reality. 

Julia Van den Brink puts it this way: 

“…[T]hose who are named as blessed by the beatitudes are those who suffer at the hands of other[s], while those addressed in the woes are insulated against such suffering…The woes are a warning for the rich and comfortable among God’s people 

that there is little security in their position if they are blinded by their possessions and if they place their security on what they possess rather than on God. The woes offer Luke’s audience a choice between blessing and woe…”

A choice. 

The woes don’t spell doom. They are an urgent invitation.

Jesus says, Follow me.

“Here we stand on the threshold of the Kingdom. I set before you today the work of the Dream of God; both opportunity and risks, discipleship and what it will cost. Choose to follow me so that you may know life at its fullest, if not at its easiest.”

Blessed are the hungry, the poor, and the grieving who have nothing but God, because God’s Dream is being fulfilled now; blessed are those who follow the One who calls them to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and console the mournful, even though the world reviles and persecutes them for demanding justice. And blessed will be those who choose to remember that they are not self-made and that they too have nothing that does not first belong to God. Blessed will be those who choose to remember who, and whose, they are.