1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. This week’s Gospel in a nutshell.
What are we supposed to do with this?! Those of us who are comfortable and privileged may want to question what Jesus means, maybe edit or rationalise until we can tolerate what is being said. We may prefer Matthew’s Beatitudes over Luke’s plain speaking about actual hunger, thirst and poverty; material issues over spiritual. If we want to know where God’s heart is and who receives blessing then we need to to look to the poor, the wretched and reviled.
From the essayist Debie Thomas, ‘So, again. What should we do with this Gospel? Wallow in guilt? Romanticise poverty? Avoid happiness? I don’t think so. The very fact that Jesus prefaces this hard teaching by alleviating suffering in every way possible suggests that he doesn’t valorize misery for its own sake. Pain in and of itself is neither holy nor redemptive in the Christian story, and in fact, Jesus’s ministry is all about healing, abundance, liberation, and joy.’
It is helpful to hold that we are not being told how to behave or think; Jesus is telling his audience simply how it is going to be. Also, every blessing and every woe is addressed to every person. This is very much a human pattern and where we live – between woes and blessings. We invite blessing when we are hungry and weak and mourning. We invite woe when we are prideful, forgetful and distance ourselves from God.
Wherever we put ourselves between blessing and woe, God is faithful and can be trusted. Trust happens to be a golden thread that runs through our readings this morning.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s message was that he wanted his people to trust him alone. No other gods, idols or even humans could replace him. So determined is God to have their trust – he is prepared to curse those who trust in ‘mere mortals and make human strength their only strength.’ Over time the Jewish people had gradually come to trust in other things, in themselves, in novel religious rituals, in wealth. Basically anything but God and they are paying a terrible price.
People like these live ‘like a shrub in the desert.’ There is no water, nothing to feed them. They won’t see relief when it comes. Think about for a moment when you are hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction? Can you think clearly? Living like this means a life of constant worry, anxiety and inability to focus on anything other than survival.
Jeremiah uses water as the image of God. God is as essential to life as water is, and to choose to live without him is as dumb as it would be to choose to live without water. Instead of being cursed, those who ‘trust in the Lord are blessed, like trees planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.’ These people are constantly being fed and watered by the stream that is God. They don’t have to fear and be anxious when things get difficult; they bear fruit always. They knew where their roots were; by the stream, planted by the water that is God. Can we check our root system today?
The message of the Gospel is where we need to put our trust. Sometimes it is a hard message but first and foremost it is about love. The love between God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all equal parts. This is the love that we are invited into, that we were created for.
Both Luke and Jeremiah have messages of woe and blessing. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. Again this is about trust. What is our trust in? Being rich, full and popular? These are good if used in the right way, not to be taken lightly or misused for our own personal gain. Woe to you if this is what your trust is in.
Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why are they blessed? God’s favour falls on those who have nothing to fall back on – no pension, no credit line, no NHS, no social care, no credit card.
Jesus is standing with people who are hungry to benefit from the power that streams from him, and he announces through his healings and his words that God cares for the poor, the hungry and the suffering. The power of God is a power that is used to comfort and renew. It is the power of the cross and resurrection.
Where then is our trust today? Maybe in light of what has happened it has been shaken – but that doesn’t mean that God’s power is less. Ever so fortunately, God’s power and love is not conditional or contingent on how we might be feeling in a particular moment. There is no better alternative to his power. Until we are powerless ourselves; we cannot truly understand his power. Find your roots again today and stay close to the waters where fear and anxiety are taken away.
Debie Thomas, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why? Because you have everything to look forward to. Because the Kingdom of God is yours. Because Jesus came, and comes still, to fill the empty-handed with good things.
May the God who gives and takes away, offers comfort and challenge, grant us the grace to sit with woe, and learn the meaning of blessing.’
3rd Before Lent: Living Between Blessings & Woes