Thanking God for the woes

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. –Luke 6:24-26

I’m not usually such of fan of negative passages in the Bible, you know like the whole ‘Loving God, please heap burning coals upon my enemies’ heads’ lines that often fall at the end of the Psalms.  Something just doesn’t seem quite right with those…

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

So I guess that’s why I tend to gravitate toward the version of the Beattitudes in Matthew 5, you know the one that wraps up with blessings, joy in heaven, and then moves onto that cheery salt and light bit.

And perhaps that’s why these few verses at the end of Luke’s version struck me so profoundly with their recognition that it’s not only poverty of spirit that’s too be cherished, but gluttony, wickedness, and pride that are to be avoided.

Yesterday, as we made our way to a foster family’s home on the outskirts of the city and down a dusty road, a Chinese friend of mine turned to me and said, “You know people think that because China is developing so rapidly that things are fine here, but we still have a lot of problems.”

This morning I read an article about the education that few can afford in China, and the widening gap between the rich and poor.  And yesterday I saw it with my own eyes, far removed from the gleaming skyscrapers in the city, among these lovely old ladies who live in shacks and take care of severely disabled, needy kids for next to nothing.

But we can all relate to that story of the haves and the have-nots, can’t we?

It’s the same story in America just on a different frequency, and it must have been the same story back in Biblical times or Jesus would have been able to stop with that list of blessings.

But he didn’t.  

He went onto to preach that he wasn’t just talking about the plight of the poor or charity, where the rich could chip in a few cents for the poor and go on their merry way, but life-changing justice–the kind where we’d all have to give up something so that others don’t have to go without the necessities, where we’d have to stop rejoicing in the struggles of others, or attributing our success, wealth, and status to our own good graces.

I’m grateful during this Lenten season that Jesus didn’t stop with the blessings, but heaped on the woes.

Because its causing me to ask myself the hard questions like, What is Jesus calling me to give up this season so that others don’t go without?  And what burdens is Jesus calling me to shoulder so that others don’t stumble and fall?  

These are the questions that Lent begs of us, and the questions that renew our search for God’s wisdom and for Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

They are the questions that I ask even now when I’m afraid to do so, so that in some humble way someday I might not be facing these woes or trashing Jesus’s good name with them, but that I might be a blessing to others.

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