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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, October 8, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Luke 6:12–26

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. He 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. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “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. “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. (NRSV)

In his excellent commentary on this passage (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible), Justo Gonzales points out that up until this point in Luke, though we know Jesus has been teaching, we have not yet heard the content of his lessons. So in his inaugural teaching moment, what do we hear? We hear these four blessings, accompanied (unlike in Matthew) with four parallel woes. Another difference from Matthew’s Beatitudes is that Luke refuses to let us spiritualize them and insists we bring them down to earth. For example, instead of Matthew’s “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Luke simply says that the hungry will be filled. And instead of Matthew’s “blessed are the poor in spirit,” Luke wants us to know that it is the actual poor who are blessed.

Gonzales writes, “As throughout Luke’s entire book, what is presented here is a hard-hitting gospel. It is good news to the poor and the powerless. It is also good news to the rich and the mighty, but only if they follow a path of radical obedience, which in turn will affect their riches and their power” (p. 93).

This great reversal is one of Jesus’ major themes throughout the Gospel of Luke. We will hear it again and again. How does this reversal “land” in your ears? Do you feel relieved by this particular combination of blessings and woes? Do you feel threatened? What does it mean for you to think of Jesus’ ministry as the proclamation and the embodiment of God’s great reversal? Can you find freedom in that proclamation? What might it help you to release into God’s good care?

Gracious God, I am not always sure what to do with these challenging words. On some days, I feel blessed to hear them, for they remind me that you are in charge, not me, and that you are bringing justice and wholeness for all people. But on other days, I feel nervous, because your ways are not always reflected in the way I live my everyday life. Give me courage, God, on this day to be glad that you are transforming this world and all who live in it. For you are deeply good, O God, and I am thankful. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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