Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 6:20-31, The Message or Luke 6:20-31, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Click here, Luke 6:20-31, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this note.
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "to be added."
This passage is an interesting choice for All Saints since it doesn't speak about the resurrection; but rather at first glance it seems to speak about saintliness. Are only the saintly resurrected? I certainly hope not! At least not in my case. So let's take a second glance at this text.
To begin, Malina and Rohrbaugh (see footnote below) suggest that the Greek word translated as "blessed" or "happy" would be better as "honourable;" and the word translated as "woe" or "trouble" should be "shameless." (And remember that "shameless" is not "shameful." Quite the opposite. To be shameless is to act without any regard for shame - to act without due regard for the opinion of others.)
Whatever the translation, Jesus completely reverses who society places in each camp.
Who are the woeful / shameless? The rich. The full. The laughing. Those who are spoken well of.
This is a tough list for those of us who are rich, or full, or laughing, or spoken well of. These all seem like good things to have and to aspire to.
So let's go back to the text for a third glance.
Notice the directness and immediacy of Jesus' language: YOU, you right here, who ARE, who are right NOW.
Jesus is speaking to real people who are right in front of him, and he is talking to them about their actual current circumstance.
And notice that he is NOT saying that being poor is a blessing. Or that being hungry is a blessing. Or that being sorrowful is a blessing. All of these will be reversed.
But being hated, hated on account of the Son of Man, now that IS a blessing. For that is a sign that you are among the company of God's true prophets.
And in the same way, being spoken well of is a woe because that is a sign that you are among the company of God's false prophets.
So I wonder if Jesus is NOT saying that being rich, or full, or laughing is in itself a woe. These too will all be reversed.
But rather Jesus is condemning the all too human weakness to confuse our needs. As we are able to meet our needs to provide for our families (wealth), to be well fed and happy, we neglect our need for God. Instead, what is within our immediate grasp becomes our salvation.
The poor, the hungry, the sorrowing will never confuse these things as being their salvation. And THAT is the blessing.
Verses 27 to 31, describe the qualities of the community that Jesus desired. These too are reversals of "normal" society. And especially for the elite and the rich who joined communities with low cast and the poor. It extracted a high cost. They had to be "shameless" in their disregard for what their families and peers would say about them; how they would be treated: hated, and reviled, etc. etc.
As Malina and Rohrbaugh comment on Verse 35 (see footnote below), the actions commended are those of a family. And so those who come together in a community of followers of Jesus are to disregard normal social rules, and relate to each other as sisters and brothers.
This is a great text to preach as a high calling to the character of Christian community.
Preaching it as pre-conditions for being saved - for being resurrected - that would be a mistake.
Preaching it as a calling to live as those who have been raised from the dead - that would be a blessing.
Verse 29. See my note on Matthew 6:38-41, Nonviolent Resistance To Violence, to avoid historical errors of how this text has been translated and interpreted. It is NOT an invitation to violence and submissiveness. It is a non-violent way of resistance.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 298-300.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Luke 6:20-31 (NRSV)
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.
27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 6:20-31 (The Message)
20 Then he spoke:
You're blessed when you've lost it all.
God's kingdom is there for the finding.
21 You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry.
Then you're ready for the Messianic meal.
You're blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.
22 "Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. 23 You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do... and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
24 But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you'll ever get.
25 And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games.
There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.
26 "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
27 "To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. 28 When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. 29 If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 30 If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
31 "Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!"
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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