But how terrible for you who are rich,
because you have already received your comfort.
How terrible for you who have plenty now,
because you will be hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now,
because you will mourn and weep.
How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26, CEB)
Wow. Are you ready to hear this? I don’t think any of us are ready.
- This follows the same form as the “happy are you who are poor” section. Jesus names four groups: people who are poor/rich, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, and rejected/praised.
- Old translations say “Woe to you.” This is classic prophetic language of the Old Testament, like Isaiah and Ezekiel, and was often followed by descriptions of war, famine, exile, and grief. Jesus is putting on the mantel of the old prophets.
- As we saw yesterday, Luke’s Jesus does not spiritualize poverty or oppression. His words are for people experiencing dramatic economic inequality, and so they are relevant to us today. They also hearken back to his mother’s words in Luke: He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. (Luke 1:52-53)
- It’s interesting that Luke’s Jesus uses the same logic here that Matthew’s Jesus uses when talking about hypocrisy in giving, prayer, and fasting for show: “You have already received your comfort.” It’s the same rhetoric applied to a different subject, which makes me think Luke and Matthew are, in fact, drawing from the same source document (Q). They’ve just applied it to different things.
- This section addresses people on the top, and it’s disturbing and stunning because we all know we want this stuff and spend a huge amount of energy in our lives to acquire it. Who doesn’t want wealth, food security, joy, and people’s praise. Are we not supposed to want wealth, security, and a good reputation?
- The implicit lesson, though, is that the system is broken. It’s not that we should all aspire to poverty, hunger, and social rejection. It’s that some people have and others do not. The system praises prophets (ahem, televangelists, ahem) who support the status quo, and they reject reformers and revolutionaries.
- Jesus implicitly invites his followers to be a contrast society, to demonstrate the kind of life that flips our corrupt system of inequality to something more just and loving.
- But we can’t make that point without directly confronting the power system that maintains injustice. Jesus can’t start off talking about love and peace without exposing the inequality and sin at the heart of human society.
- God takes sides. God has a preferential option for the poor.
- Too often, churches mute this section of the sermon. They want to talk about love and justice in the abstract without directly exposing and confronting specific injustices. People say it isn’t loving to make rich people uncomfortable, it isn’t loving to call others “false prophets.” Jesus will certainly talk about love in the next section, but first he must make it clear: He isn’t here to play. He’s here to tell the truth.
Just One, shine your light on our society, so that we may see it clearly and confront its problems courageously.