Thursday, January 10, 2008


Luke’s Blessings and Woes

Luke was the only Gentile (non-Jew) to write in the New Testament. We know this because in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he lists two different groups of people as his companions in prison. The first group (Colossians 4:10, 11), Paul describes as “the only fellow-workers for the Kingdom of God who are from the circumcision (i.e., Jews).” Luke is not in this group, but in a second (12-14) where he is described as “beloved Doctor Luke.” Though he wasn’t an eye-witness to the events of the life of Jesus on earth, he tells us that he has reliable sources, including eye-witnesses, and that he has carefully investigated the accounts he has received (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes gives four “happys” and four corresponding “miserables.” These have to do with external circumstances in the life of the hearers (6:20-26).

I believe Luke selected these from a greater number because they fit with a theme common to his gospel.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the sayings of Jesus, “the first will be last and the last first” (in some form or another) (Matthew 19:30; 20:16; Mark 9:35; 10:31; Luke 13:30). In all the gospels, we read that in the Kingdom there is a radical reversal of commonly accepted social structures. It is in Luke’s gospel, however, where we find this theme most often expressed.

We first find it in the song of Mary, while she was still pregnant with Jesus. “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones. And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed” (Luke 1:51b-53).

We see it in Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Luke. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

We see it in the stories, parables and miracles Luke records, many of which have to do with those the society of Jesus’ day rejected: women, Gentiles, Samaritans, lost people.

We see it in His words to the twelve at the last supper. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the younger, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:25b, 26).

So it seems natural that the “happys” and “miserables” that grabbed Luke would show that same reversal of the normal order (6:20-26):
-- “Happy are the poor – miserable the rich.”
-- “Happy are the hungry – miserable the full."
-- “Happy are the weepers – miserable the laughers."
-- “Happy those hated and excluded – miserable those spoken well of.”

Perhaps Luke delighted in these reversals because as a Gentile he was one of those who would normally have been excluded.

Or perhaps it was because Luke saw that God’s order is often in contradiction to man’s, that God is not a respecter of persons.

I believe the word that Jesus chose – “happy” or “lucky” fits our situation today. Our age, I believe, thinks little differently from any other, except that we get our thoughts communicated much more rapidly.

We are fixated in 21st century America, on the rich and famous, on sports stars and movie stars, on popular musicians and authors. Worst of all we are fixated on people who serve no useful function except to be famous for our entertainment and gossip.

Perhaps these people are miserable even if they don’t know it!

We worry a little about the poor, the alien, the hungry, but not much, if what we see on our news’ media is any indication -- or what we see on the magazine racks at the checkout counters at Wal*Mart.

But Jesus tells us this will all be changed, that all of this is only temporary – that in the future Kingdom all will be set right.

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