Luke 6:20-26 (NIV) 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 men 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 fathers 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 all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Luke gives a brief encapsulation of the beatitudes that Jesus gave to His followers. Matthew captured only the positive aspects of this speech in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), but those whom Luke interviewed also remembered the “flip side,” the woes that Jesus pronounced on those who were satisfied and self-righteous. These come in four contrasting pairs.
Those who are poor are called blessed. Though they have little of material value, they are receiving the kingdom of God because of their faith in Jesus. On the other hand, those who are rich and satisfied with their lives will not receive the kingdom. Their self-satisfaction and the lure of wealth will block their way. This angle was reemphasized by Jesus in His encounter with the rich young man who would not turn away from his worldly wealth, even to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:22-25).
Those who are hungry (Luke emphasizes physical hunger, while Matthew focused on hunger and thirst for righteousness) are blessed, because God Himself has promised to provide what is needed for those who serve and obey Him. He will open up channels of provision for them, even as he provided manna for His people in the wilderness. But woe is pronounced on those who are well fed, because fortunes change and shift constantly, and those who depend upon their own ability to provide for themselves and their families are very likely to end up in need at some point. And, because they have not relied on God in times of plenty, they will not receive His provision in times of need.
Those who weep and mourn over tragedies and unfairness of life are pronounced blessed, because they can turn to God and receive comfort for their souls. But those who are satisfied and have joy in their comfort have woe pronounced over them, because circumstances shift suddenly, and loss and grief are inevitable in our broken world. If a person does not cultivate a strong relationship with God in the good times (and very few even think about their relationship with God when they are riding high), they have a very hard time seeking God when grief suddenly comes into their lives, and they will end up facing those hard times alone.
Finally, those who are hated, excluded, rejected, and persecuted because of their relationship with Jesus are blessed, because they are sharing in the same persecution as God’s true followers have always experienced at the hands of unbelievers. On the other hand, those who work their words and their lives to gain the acclaim of others, avoiding the hard truths that must often be spoken to draw people close to God, may enjoy a good reputation among the people of the world, but they deserve a woe from Jesus. They are doing the same things that the false prophets of the past have always done, telling people what they want to hear, and they will ultimately end up with God’s judgment against them.
Father, many of us are familiar with the up-sides of these teachings, the blessings. But the down-sides, the woes are as jarring to us as they would have been to those who first heard Jesus speak them. After all, we consider those who are rich, well-fed, happy, and popular, to be blessed above all others. But Jesus pronounced solemn woes over them, because all of those positive things can easily lead to self-satisfaction and a feeling of autonomy that can become a wall between them and You. Help me, Lord, to never allow myself to become self-satisfied like that, and to end up outside of the circle of Your blessing. Amen.