Summary: Jesus pronounces His followers Blessed, and pronounces woes against those who are taking their ease in this world.
BLESSINGS AND WOES IN THE GOSPEL
The context here teaches us that Jesus had spent a whole night alone on the mountain praying to God (Luke 6:12); then He called His disciples to draw near and from them He chose His twelve Apostles (Luke 6:13). Jesus came down with them all and stood on a level place (Luke 6:17). There they were joined by a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon.
The mention of Tyre and Sidon is interesting. This was Gentile country (cf. Luke 4:25-26). Jesus later addressed ‘woes’ against two Jewish towns in which He had done some of His mighty works. If such signs had been done in Tyre and Sidon, argued Jesus, they would have repented long ago (Luke 10:13-14). Jew or Gentile, Jesus is the only Way!
In today’s text we see people already clamouring for Him to heal them, and to deliver them from unclean spirits which tormented them. They sought His touch, and they were healed (Luke 6:17-19). If we seek Him today, He is both able, and willing, to deliver us (Luke 5:12-13).
“And He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples and said -” (Luke 6:20). Jesus addresses THEM as “Blessed poor”; “Blessed who hunger now”; “Blessed who weep now” (Luke 6:20-21). Then He begins to say, “Blessed are ye (all) when -”; “Rejoice ye (all) in that day - for your great reward in heaven” (Luke 6:22-23).
The word used for “Blessed” here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5:1-12), speaks of an already existing state of existence. To be blessed is to be endowed with divine favour. It is to be proclaimed holy. ‘The Blessed’ is who we are in Christ.
Although we are not told that Jesus shifted His gaze, each of these blessings is balanced with a corresponding “woe” against their opposite (Luke 6:24-26). The word “woe” speaks of God’s displeasure, arising from a wrong standing with God.
“The poor” (Luke 6:20) corresponds with ‘the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3; cf. Isaiah 66:2). Such people, says Jesus, are already in possession of the kingdom of God. The poverty spoken of here is not lack of bread or of rice. It refers rather to that humility of spirit which recognises our emptiness without Christ.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Think of the rich man in the parable, to whom Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things’ (Luke 16:25). The rich man was not condemned to hell because of his riches, but rather for his missed opportunities. He had every opportunity to show compassion to the poor man at his gate but does not appear to have done so.
Those who hunger now (Luke 6:21) again balances with ‘those who hunger and thirst after righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6). Such people, says Jesus, shall be filled. The Christian character is shaped by our relationship with Jesus, our continual supping with Him in word and sacrament, prayer and devotion.
Again, those who weep now (Luke 6:21) corresponds to ‘those who mourn’ (Matthew 5:4). Those who weep tears of true repentance in this life, for example, have their consolation both in the here and now - and in eternity where ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’ (Revelation 21:4).
But woe to the opposite, whose time of mourning and weeping is yet to come (Luke 6:25)!
The extended Beatitude at the end of the sequence addresses the circumstance of persecution against the Church (Luke 6:22-23; cf. Matthew 5:11-12). It is similar to the way that Israel treated the prophets (cf. Acts 7:51-53). It is hard to go through such things, but, just as in our text, “the Son of Man” presences Himself with us in the midst of them.
The last “woe” of this sequence is, “Woe when men speak well of you. For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). This speaks to us of the danger of desiring the praise of men, as opposed to acceptance with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not told what that woe entails, but it must surely be the opposite of the “great reward in heaven” mentioned above (Luke 6:23).
As God’s people, let us always view the world’s attitudes and values in the light of the Gospel, and of the eternal life which is already ours in Christ Jesus. To His Name be all the praise, and all the glory. Amen.