Luke 6:20-26 — (Jesus 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 people 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 ancestors 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 everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
The story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp is as thought provoking as it is appealing. Who would not be interested in an offer like Aladdin received from the genie in the lamp? Who wouldn’t like to have the power to get any three wishes granted? I suppose the modern counterpart to Aladdin’s lamp would be the lottery. Those who win one of those 80-million-dollar prizes are able to buy themselves quite a few wishes.
What would you do with three wishes? What would you do with the lottery prize? The possibilities are appealing for even the most contented of us.
Money is the key to many things, and certainly a big pile of money would be nice. But, we might be quick to add, what good is money if you don’t have health? So, we might wish that things go well for us and our loved one—health-wise and otherwise. And, speaking of our loved ones, a lot of sadness is caused by people not getting along, so we might also wish for good relationships; for peace and harmony with family and friends. That isn’t asking too much, is it?
Well, with those few simple wishes in mind, look at Jesus’ words in Luke 6:20-22. This is Luke’s list of the familiar and loved Beatitudes, also recorded in the fifth chapter of Matthew. However, reading them in light of our three wishes could make one wonder why this passage is so much loved. Listen to what Jesus is saying.
You want a little more money? Jesus says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”
You want good health and you want things to go well for you? Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. …But woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”
Or do you just want to get along with everybody, not make any waves, and have a few laughs with your friends? Jesus says: “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… Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”
Jesus, what are you talking about here? Should we just give all our money away, make everybody mad at us, and then sit and be sad and feel sorry for ourselves?
I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying here. In fact, if you look close at the sentences, Jesus doesn’t tell us to do anything here. He does that in other places, but not here. He is just describing how life gets: sometimes you will weep, and sometimes you will laugh; sometimes things go well, and sometimes they won’t; sometimes you will have what you need, and sometimes you won’t; and sometimes you get along, and sometimes you will have troubles. And he says, some things will come as blessings and some will cause you woe.
What Jesus is saying is don’t get all caught up in the outward appearance of things. He is saying that maybe it isn’t so great to get and to have everything you think you want. So if you are weeping, hold on. Believe in Jesus and you’ll be all right. In fact, you will rejoice. You are not told when, but you will. If you are poor, doing without all you need, and perhaps are even hungry; hold on. Believe in Jesus and you will be satisfied. And so on.
Jesus is always turning things upside down like this because he sees more than we see. He has a larger perspective than we do. We want good looks, popularity, athletic ability, a good job, financial success, and things to all go well all the time. We don’t want hardship, disappointments, or trouble of any kind. But Jesus knows us. He knows what is in our heart. He knows we need some blessings and we need some trouble; and he knows it would not be good if we always received everything we wanted.
What is this larger perspective Jesus has? Well, Jesus is always speaking from the perspective of eternity. This eternal perspective will enlarge our view of everything. Now in my sixties, I realize it’s a good thing I did not get everything I wanted at age twenty. I also see that some of the hard limes and disappointments that I had then were, in the long run, good for me. And the most important issue from which to gain the proper perspective is ultimate perspective of eternity with or without God.
To gain that perspective, we must ask the most important question: What experiences, what blessings, what troubles will draw me closer to God, and what could, in the end, lead me away from God? We must ask that because in the end, that is all that will matter, because God is all you will have. If in the end you don’t have God anymore, it won’t matter what you have had in the past. All will be lost.
It is a fact of life that often—not always, but often—the better things go for us, the more we forget God. And oftentimes—not always, but oftentimes—it is troubles and hardships and disappointments that bring us back to God.
When do you pray the most, for example? When things are going well; or, when you have absolutely no place else to turn? Studies show that, on the average, as incomes increases, prayer decreases. Where do you think there is more conversation with God: on the beach in Maui or in a hospital emergency room?
The more God blesses us, the more we tend to trust in those blessings and not in God. It’s one of the greatest temptations to forget God when things are going well, and only by much prayer and devotion is that temptation resisted. As I said, as blessings increase, prayer decreases. The devil has his way with us and we forget God. And what then usually brings us back? Well, it is trouble– and oftentimes, only trouble will do it. (continued…)