Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

by Bear Wade

CROSSING OVER THE GREAT DIVIDE
Luke 6:17-26
(Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by James Squire

17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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. 24But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.


DIAGNOSIS: Divided by the Curse

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Coveting more
When Jesus calls us “blessed” it is all too often not a compliment, but an indictment precisely because our own experience does not match up with his pronouncements. The “haves” among us know that no matter how much we have it is never enough. The “have-nots” among us, obviously, are not satisfied because we too want to be among those who “have.” Even such “having not” is an indictment on those who “have”–a sign of our conflict with one another in the distribution of resources, and a conflict that seems unending. In short, none of us is satisfied with what we have. Certainly we don’t consider ourselves “blessed”. Either way, rich or poor, hungry or filled, sick or healthy, valued or persecuted, we covet more–more respect, more possessions, more to be satisfied, more to be whole.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Unhappy
The crowds are described as “troubled with unclean spirits” (v. 18). This is a physical description, but it also describes much more about their (and our) lives. We are troubled by other voices who too often succeed in leading us to worship the things of life rather than the Giver of life. Those of us who have these things prize them very much. Those of us who don’t have them, crave what we don’t have more than anything else. Either way, we remain unhappy. Things cannot satisfy us (v. 21), nor can they bring us the Kingdom of God (v. 20). Just as the people in the story were unable to cure themselves, so also are we unable to recover by ourselves. We put our trust in things, making idols of them, and what we get in return are things that rule over us.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Cursed
Instead of being blessed by gifts, we are actually cursed. Blessing and cursing are not only relational terms; they are also locational terms. To be cursed means to be in the wrong place with respect to God. Jesus uses words of “woe” to depict our bad location. Because we worship material things and the respect of others, we do not receive blessing but cursing from God–and God’s curse is deadly. We “have received our consolation.” You can almost hear the word “already” following it, even though it doesn’t appear in the text. In other words, there will come a time when that consolation will be used up (namely, our current wealth), and we will be left like the poor: without consolation. The final curse for all of us is not only being stuck in a struggle between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” God has a way of using us to carry out the divine retribution on each other for always having more than the other. In the meantime, the one thing we don’t have is any reward in heaven.

PROGNOSIS: Blessed by Christ’s Leveling

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Blessed
It is noteworthy that Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place” (v.17). You might say that Jesus levels the playing field, eliminating the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. That could be more news of cursing, were it not for the fact that such leveling is Jesus’ way of reconciling. Jesus takes on the curse of being “leveled” with us as one hated, excluded, reviled (22:63-71). Humanity put a curse on Jesus the Christ at Golgotha, and he willingly suffered that curse rather than assert his “right place” with God. But that is how our relational location has been changed >from “wrong” to “right” with God. “On account of the Son of Man” (v. 22), we are blessed, indeed!

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Happy
To hear and grasp as one’s own Jesus’ pronouncement of “blessed are you” is to be “blessed.” Another word for being “blessed” is being “happy”. Blessing is something that is not only given, but must also be received, or it is all for naught. We are happy and satisfied with Jesus’ claim because we “take his word for it.” Such believing/trusting brings us our reward in heaven here and now. Happiness is, therefore, not based on happenstance, but on account of the Son of Man. We are no longer ruled by the passions and dictates of “things” or the perceptions of others, but find our relational locus in our place with the Son of Man, who calls us blessed.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Passing it on
How we live this blessing is at outgrowth of how we treasure this blessing. The happy life is not necessarily marked by happy circumstances: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!” (v. 22) Others may well link us up with Jesus’ fate; but Jesus encourages us to make the most of even this blessing. When we are hated, excluded, and reviled by others, that is now the occasion for us to reach out to them and pass on the blessing that makes each and every relational location a place for joy. Being “cursed” is for us already a thing of the past. We no longer seek our satisfaction (from the Latin satis, having enough) by coveting more. We already have by faith our “reward [which] is great in heaven” (v. 23). Living the blessed, happy life is exchanging the conflict from others with Christ’s style of giving of ourselves–rejoicing all the way.

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