I don’t like the Beatitudes.
Not because I disagree with them, although I wish I could. I just don’t like them because they make me uncomfortable. Particularly Luke’s beatitudes.
Everybody likes to talk about Matthew’s Beatitudes, but we don’t often spend a lot of time on Luke’s. Where Matthew’s Beatitudes seem to be mostly spiritually focused, Luke’s are definitely more physical. Where Matthew says things like “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke simply says “Blessed are the poor.”
I mean, “Blessed” means “Happy”, and I don’t tend to equate poverty with happiness.
The other beatitudes are not much better.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice 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.
Those are words with decidedly negative connotations to most people. And since Luke doesn’t do us the courtesy of adding spiritual modifiers to each beatitude the way Matthew does, we’re left with these uncomfortable statements about the poor, the hungry, the grieving, and the outcasts.
What’s good about that? Why is it good to be poor? To Hunger? To Mourn? To be Hated?
And then, just to make sure we get the point, Jesus gives us the flip-side of the coin by making 4 “Woe” statements:
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
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.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Woe isn’t a word we us a use very often, but most of us recognize it as not having positive connotations. Woe means distress and trouble.
And the people that Jesus claims are distressed and troubled are those who are rich, those who have had plenty to eat, those who are laughing, and those who are well thought of by others.
So Luke’s version of the Beatitudes are a giant buzzkill to everyone who is satisfied with life.
The apostles must have laughed at Jesus when he made these statements. Surely they thought he accidentally mixed up his notes. After all, having what you needed to live a fulfilled life was generally considered to be a sign of blessing from God, and yet Jesus is sitting here saying it’s the exact opposite.
Happy are those who experience dissatisfaction with life. Troubled are those who have what they think they need.
The Beatitudes are part of the Great Reversal of the Gospel. Blessed are those who are miserable, unsatisfied, hopeless, despondent, and humiliated, because those are the people who have the most to gain by Christ’s coming.
Those who are satisfied with life don’t need a Savior to make life better.
When we experience life and are satisfied with what we have, it’s very difficult for us to seek restoration. If I’m happy with where my life is, why would I want Jesus to disrupt all that?
But Jesus says “Woe to those who don’t want to be disrupted.” Because if I’m comfortable in this kingdom, what motivation do I have to work to usher in the next one? What if my own comfort leads me to ignore the poor, hungry, mourning, and despised the way the Rich Man ignored Lazarus in Luke 16?
If I’m going to be a follower of Christ, I have to be willing to give up what satisfies me in order to seek after the restoration that Jesus promised. Because the Gospel says that there are better things coming. And if I believe that, I can’t be satisfied with what I have now, or else I risk missing out on the joy of redemption and life with the Father. Because sure, Christ enables me to grow closer to God now, but I still live in anticipation of the day when we will be fully redeemed and God will make all things new.
In Romans 8, Paul talks about this idea that Creation groans in anticipation of redemption. But what if we’ve stopped groaning? What if I’ve stopped looking for redemption, and started to be satisfied with what I already have.
Maybe Jesus’ woe statements are for those of us who are unwilling to experience the suffering of hunger, mourning, hatred, or poverty that comes along with the adventure of the Kingdom of God, because we prefer the security of familiar satisfaction. Maybe the woe statements are for those of us who have become accustomed to a comfortable life, that we’ve stopped groaning in anticipation for the day all things will be made new.
When we become satisfied with what life has to offer us, we lose what death in Christ has to offer us. When we grow comfortable in this world, we stop working to move beyond it.
Maybe that’s what Jesus means by his Woe statements in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.
Woe to those who no longer experience the discomfort of a world not yet put to rights.
Woe to those who are content with what they have, to the point that they stop looking for more.
Woe to those who have abandoned the work of the Kingdom in favor of the work of self-maintenance.
Maybe Jesus was on to something when he said Blessed are the Poor, the Hungry, the Mourning, and the Hated. Maybe it’s only by becoming dissatisfied that we can truly chase after redemption. Maybe it’s only by experiencing groanings of discomfort, that we can be open to the working of the Messiah to make all things new.