Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Blessings and woes


Gospel set for Holy Communion today: Luke 6:20-26

20 Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh...

24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep...

Blessing and woe. In this passage, Jesus places side-by-side ‘proverbial’ ideas from the Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Bible and justice ideas from the Prophets. I have set the latter [verses 22, 23 & 26] aside for now, because, important though justice is, I want to draw out the more often overlooked Wisdom dimension.

There’s a small but key word in these verses, and that is now. It carries the meanings at this present moment and also as a logical consequence of what has gone before. There are people living among us who are hungry, today, because of systemic injustice, a system that forces people to work for less money than it is possible for them to live on, so that they have to choose between rent and utility bills and food. And the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven compels us to face that reality and confront it. That’s the Prophetic tradition.

But, alongside that, the Wisdom tradition reveals to us a broader reality. Every one of us is subject to time and chance, to gifts and griefs. It is entirely right that weeping is the logical outcome of remembering a loved one who has died. And yet, we also know that though we are weeping in this present moment, we will know laughter again at some point in the future; perhaps even the near future. Emotions are not binary; in this fleeting life, joy and sorrow go hand-in-hand, together.

There are those who have, whether material goods or a prosperity of relationships, but who are so concerned that they might lose what they have, that they are quite unable to enjoy it. This is a tragedy, a great woe. For the reality is, we all lose what we have. We all experience loss, bereavement, poverty of spirit. We all experience comfort, too; not as a reward that demonstrates that we are more worthy, more deserving than others; nor as a right, because we have earned it; but because of the gift of God, to the righteous and the unrighteous, the good and the evil, the hero and the villain, alike.

Blessed are those who are experiencing the loss column in the ledger of life right now, on account of what has befallen them, but who know that they will soon experience the gain column. Who can give thanks to God that God does not abandon us in our grief, as well as for all of God’s good gifts we have enjoyed in the past and will enjoy in the future. For sorrow and joy, and life itself, are fleeting.

But woe to those who have been blessed and don’t recognise it. Who kill their spirit in trying to grasp that which is fleeting, and cannot be held on to. Who close their fist so tightly that they crush the gift in their hand.

Whatever you are experiencing now, have a blessed day.


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