And [Jesus] came down with them [the 12 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, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“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! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to t
he false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26 ESV)
The stories of Jesus are dramatic at this time. From The Epiphany until the Transfiguration – which is certainly a bright shining moment – the Church has focused on Jesus’ ministry of words and deeds. The teaching is often controversial and the deeds spectacular. So, today, we have Jesus choosing 12 apostles – and there are a ‘great crowd’ of disciples as well as a ‘great multitude’ of the people present. They are present, it seems, for the healing that Jesus was doing – and Luke describes it very dramatically ‘for power came out from him [Jesus] and he healed them all’ (Luke 6:19).
Then Jesus begins teaching and Luke specifically mentions that Jesus is eyeballing the disciples here – the lifestyle of following Jesus – the fine print of the relationship – is being revealed to them. And the crowd – the people – are not mentioned it seems – have they been healed and left? But if they stayed – and in the next chapter we find that Jesus had taught his disciples in ‘the hearing of the people’ (Luke 7:1) they, too, would have heard 4 blessings and 4 woes. And, as when anyone says anything to us, we assess it and work out whether it applies to us and if it does, how it will affect us, so those who heard Jesus would have done likewise.
Think of … love letters. Wage increases. Votes in parliament. Legal pronouncements. News from here and around the world. We hear them all. Blessings and woes to be sure – and we make assessments about them and how they will affect us. We hear the words, we judge the speaker – credible, truthful, powerful, and we decide how we will respond to the words. It was the same for the disciples and the people.
Today we don’t see and hear Jesus as those people Luke has mentioned saw and heard Jesus. Today we have the Bible which we believe is God’s Word. And so whether reading the Bible, hearing a sermon, studying Scripture, meditating on a Bible verse or singing a Biblical message – Christians know that if it is scriptural then it is God’s Word – but the real issue is ‘How is it God’s Word for me here and now?’.
And this now becomes personal. To what are we drawn?
Are we sick and would very much like healing? Did we hear and notice the ‘blessings’ because, at this point in time, life is tough for us? Did we hear the woes? Did they rattle us – unsettle us – because they challenge us and how we live?
This year one portion of the Bible is heard and next year it is another portion. Same Bible. Same Jesus pointing to the same God. Same us – in that our sins still need forgiving and God is still gracious – but different us in that we are a year older. To get from now to then is one day at a time and we know that Jesus is with us each day encouraging us with blessings and challenging us with woes which affect our attitudes and our behaviour.
What we generally don’t see is the healing. At least not in the Lutheran Church in the dramatic way Luke presents it today. This has always been a contentious point in the history of the Church – and a marketing tool for some groups – and a challenge – even a stumbling block for people when enveloped in illness and when these verses are the only Scripture in focus and healing doesn’t come as they want.
There is no doubt then – and still today – that healing and power attracts many people – we can imagine the need and the desperation – but Luke records no mention of anyone following Jesus as such. That healed people did follow Jesus we know from other accounts in the Gospels but Jesus controversially stated that he had not come to bring healing to people but rather the Kingdom of God – and calling people to follow him with a radical lifestyle. (More on that next week.)
And so we are left with a quandary in the Church about what to do about healing – ignore it, promote it, what?
May I suggest that we do what Luke suggests and encourage people to meet Jesus – hear him – and touch him and receive his power? We’ll let Jesus do what he wishes in people’s lives and not ‘programme’ him or insist he act as we demand but trust him to act. It is from this perspective that the Christian Church – through its liturgy and understanding that Jesus is really present through words, water, bread and wine – has encouraged people to see Sunday Worship as a ‘healing service’ without the capital ‘H’ and ‘S’. The Early Church called Holy Communion ‘the medicine of immortality’ and ‘the antidote against death’ – phrases patently stupid from the world’s perspective as everyone who communes still dies. And yet Holy Communion is central to our way of responding to shame, illness, and valley of the shadow of death. The Lutheran Church encourages it pastors to go out during the week and bring the Sacrament of the Altar to those in the congregation who are ill just as it encourages those who are ill to ask for it and receive it – all because in this encounter people are touching Jesus and he them.
The Lutheran Church also has liturgies for caring for those who are ill and makes a big point in them of separating prayers for healing from the forgiveness of sins and the laying on of hands and even anointing with oil so as not to give the impression that illness is because of unconfessed sin. Illness is so often part of a fallen and tragic world – but this is a world in which Jesus walks and is with his people.
Whoever you are and whatever your circumstances today, God’s Word – Jesus – speaks to you – and addresses you in your situation, in your body, in your joys and sorrows and he addresses you personally. What will you hear? Blessings? Woes? Both? Healing? Dramatic? Hidden? I do not specifically know.
But I do know that the risen Lord Jesus has called us to him and he is present – caring, guiding, challenging, and helping us for another week in the world – and for us remember that with Jesus that means that we are already in the Kingdom of God.
- Luke 6:17 - 26