He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (New International Version)
There are double meanings throughout these words of Christ for us today; the expressions used by Jesus are specifically meant to be understood in two ways.
In order to speak to the people, Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. In other words, the actual act of doing this is also to be understood as a means of identifying with others and getting on their level. The Lord intends not to speak down to people but to relate with folks alongside them.
The blessing of God is provided, up close and personal, not from afar. The word “blessed” is much more than a reference to physical health and wealth; it also refers to enjoying God’s stamp of approval on the whole of your life – body, mind, emotions, and spirit. And that is also what healing does for us; it effects the entirety of our being and not just one dimension of it.
To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, blessings can and do rest upon us, even though we may be on the unfortunate end of someone’s hatred, exclusion, and defamation. It is to live through opposition, aware that our struggles are temporary and that our reward is great in heaven.
To have a “woe” pronounced means the opposite of blessing – to have God’s disapproval. It is to experience a curse – body, mind, emotions, and spirit – in the holistic sense.
The woeful may not experience apparent discomfort during this life. They mistake their wealth, their stuff, and their high connections as approval from God. However, they will find a fiery existence awaiting them. Apart from repentance and faith in becoming poor in spirit, their end is sure.
We are being led and guided to choose the way of blessing – and to avoid the path of woe.
Poverty, hunger, and weeping, on one level, are broad social categories. At another level, they are spiritual categories which describe the true follower of Jesus.
Christ’s church includes people who are poor, hungry, and weeping – in the full sense of the term. They, therefore, rely upon the community of the redeemed sharing all things in common as their means of provision. (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34)
We really need to avoid the temptation to make complex situations simple. To look upon those who now have wealth, eat well, laugh, and enjoy high standing, as under a curse from God, makes us simpletons who likely don’t understand what’s going on.
Others may make direct associations with wealth as blessing, which it may or may not be. And the same can be said for poverty and hunger – the presence of it doesn’t necessarily mean either blessing or woe.
The watershed issue is what we do with the life we have been given. Do the rich rely upon wealth or on God? Do the poor seek the Lord or just try to look for patrons who will help them? And do we all accept where we are right now and look to use whatever we have, and whoever we are, to benefit the benevolent and gracious kingdom of God?
We all may come from different places, have differing experiences, and be at various points along the continuum of poverty and wealth. Yet, we are all human and we are all in this life together.
So, we need to make the best of it with each other – instead of continually being at cross purposes with one another through simple stereotypes and hackneyed approaches based in little research or rational thought.
Jesus is leading us to a place of abundance, peace, and blessing – if we have ears to hear and minds receptive to his leading. It’s a place of healing; and not a place of woe. It is the realm of God, in which morality, ethics, kindness, and joy abound forever and ever.
Help us, O God, to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.