Meeting Jesus 2,000 Years Apart
17 And [Jesus] came down with [the twelve apostles] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
20 And he lifted up his eyes on 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 shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers 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 shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26 ESV)
Let me begin with my gripe about the lectionary compliers and get it out of the way! Putting the best construction on things, they were thinking of you (!) and didn’t want the Gospel to be too long and so you didn’t have to stand and so they have snipped Jesus’ teachings into three parts and yes, a willing student can learn from any part of a lesson but first time round it might be better to get the whole thing as Jesus’ first hearers would have done – and there’s a good chance they would have been standing! 😉 So let’s make today (v.17-26) Part 1 – next Sunday (v.27-38) Part 2 – and then in the week following Part 2 you read v.39-49 (Part 3) and reflect on it.
Of course, if this is your first time hearing the Gospel of Luke chapter 6 then I encourage you not to wait and when you get home today to keep reading!
You see, what we’re doing at worship is not like a company board meeting where we gather to read the minutes of the previous meetings or the history of the company and plan the next steps in growing the company – getting more ‘shoppers’ and increasing the ‘profit’. Neither are we at some sort of ‘spiritual casino’ where we are hoping for a lucky break and a miracle with our attendance, effort, and prayers. Nevertheless Christians worship in a context and tradition that they have received – we didn’t make up Jesus or how we are to worship – and we attend because we do believe we receive things that we wouldn’t have received otherwise – which are usually summarised in the word ‘blessings’ – it is only that we often don’t experience anything to confirm it – because we live by faith and not by sight!
Christian worship is the interaction and encounter with Jesus who calls his people – and if the world – our relatives, friends, neighbours, the curious, the desperate – want to join us, that’s fine, they can listen in, observe, and still receive blessings but they – and we – only keep returning not because of the blessings, the answers to prayers, the help, the healing but because of the relationship with Jesus – the discipleship, the friendship, the care, dare I say it – the love that can exist – and all because Jesus loves us first! Jesus reveals the Father and together they send the Holy Spirit and an incredible reality opens up that God has created and saved us to live life to the full – and that means with him!
When Jesus was walking around, Luke records how people came to him for healing – we struggle with that these days – but if they stayed around him then what they received were words about living – and about having a relationship with Jesus as this ‘Son of Man’. You don’t hang around your doctor unless you need help. What we don’t know is how many people Jesus healed listened to his message. We have no accounts of Jesus healing the same person multiple times – and yet they all would have had physical ailments – and they all died – after their healing. What was Jesus then to them?
Healing is help. Of course it is and let us not be churlish about such things – and rejoice in people’s health. However it becomes a long bow to draw that Jesus’ mission was to heal or even to say or suggest that healing is a sign of his favour particularly as most Christians die from some sort of ill health. There is nothing in this world that says that Christians die in their sleep apparently healthy after a long and fulfilling life and all the non Christians die from accidents and diseases! In fact it might be suggested that if Jesus had healed you once, why could he not do it again? Or is it a one-miracle-per-person deal? You see, however we reflect on healing in the Bible, we are best to leave it to Jesus to deal with it – and our requests for help.
In fact, for us today who know what happened to Jesus on the cross and how his own prayer to the Father wasn’t answered as he first wanted and how he learnt obedience to the Father (Hebrews 5:7-10) and trusted his will – that is how we approach healing and help from God – ask by all means and trust God’s will to be done.
Similarly with what Jesus taught – the beginning of which we heard today – the 4 ‘blessings’ and the 4 ‘woes’. They are strange because they present Jesus’ perspective on things but not direct actions as such. They present the landscape but not the path on which you should walk. I imagine that those first hearers having to decide which message is for them and maybe they found themselves both on the ‘blessing’ side and on the ‘woe’ side! What then? How should they respond? Of course there are implied actions that can be done but no details.
20b “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers 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 shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
This is no praise of poverty or condemnation of wealth in themselves but rather a challenge to one’s behaviour and goals whether poor or rich. Similarly there is no praise of hunger or condemnation of fullness but a challenge to our behaviour when we find ourselves hungry or with abundance. Again the third blessing and woe are not about general attitudes leading towards hate and exclusion or praise and affirmation but are about where we stand in relation to the truth. Truth about what? Truth about whom? That this Jesus reveals God to us – brings the Kingdom of God to us – and calls us to live in this Kingdom first rather than Judea or the Roman Empire or England or the Commonwealth.
And this reminds us that at this point Jesus is speaking to his disciples – he had just appointed the Twelve – not to the world. Yes, the world was around – they wanted healing – but they were listening in, eavesdropping what Jesus expects of his followers. What is important to hear are not rules or legislation – he doesn’t define hunger in terms of calories or riches in terms of bank accounts – perspectives about what we are to do in our contexts with what is given to us – even if we were born with it or worked for it – all that we have are gifts from God and Jesus is pointing his disciples to a discipleship lifestyle rather than club regulations. We are being called to follow Jesus in the circumstances we find ourselves in the world and with our resources.
‘Following Jesus’ would be easy to do if we could see Jesus – we then could simply walk behind him. As a phrase it means today considering our relationship with Jesus as the priority in our life – not that we are thinking about Jesus all the time – please concentrate on the road when driving! – but that Jesus’ perspective and presence are always close to us, shaping us, so that we are still us – individuals that we are – but a ‘me’ that wants to be formed and grow closer to Jesus as we live each day. The woes and blessings – also the Law and the Gospel – give to the disciples of Jesus not history lessons but real-time, real-life news, guidance, and advice from Jesus.
Why listen to Jesus? Why indeed?! Because his story includes a cross and an empty tomb – which means Jesus always has had us in mind when it comes to living well with God.
Part 2 next Sunday.
- Luke 6:17 - 26