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Friday, February 09, 2007
Surprising Teaching Jesus begins to teach about the life of discipleship, turning conventional human understanding upside down. In speaking of blessings and woes, Jesus surprises and challenges. Our readings affirm that all who trust in the promises of God are blessed. Luke 6:17–26 Imagine the scene: Jesus goes up a mountain to pray and stays all night. The next morning he calls the disciples together and chooses twelve of them to be apostles (Luke 6:12-16). As they come down the mountain, there is an enormous crowd of people waiting for them, seeking healing. In this group there are other disciples, Jews (those noted as coming from Judea and Jerusalem), and Gentiles (those noted as coming from Tyre and Sidon). Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “Blessed are you…” In this way the gospel of Luke begins Jesus’ teaching commonly called the Beatitudes. These sayings are also recorded in Matthew 5:1–12. In Luke, this teaching marks the beginning of a lengthy period of instruction for the disciples before Jesus sends them out on their own (9:6). In Matthew’s record of the Beattudes, no “woes” are mentioned. Luke, however, reports Jesus’ teaching as including four sets of blessings and woes. Poor/rich, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, and rejected/accepted form parallel pairings of blessing and woe. Jesus’ use of the word “you” in each statement suggests that the crowd included individuals living in each of these situations. As named in Deuteronomy 11:26–28, Jesus’ hearers would have considered blessing to be a sign of God’s favour and woe a sign of God’s disapproval or judgment. The ways that Bible translators have rendered these phrases offers additional insight for us. The phrase “blessed are” (NRSV) is translated in other Bible versions as “God will bless,” “Happy are,” and “You’re blessed when.” The phrase “woe to” (NRSV) is translated as “you’re in for trouble,” “how terrible for you,” and “it’s trouble ahead.” Jesus’ message to those who would follow as disciples is one of astounding promise. For many in that crowd, these words may have seemed full of justice and mercy. For others they may have seemed a harsh judgment. Jesus speaks prophetically of the great reversal of human understanding that we encounter in the reign of God. As Jesus continues to be revealed as a great teacher, his message continues to reveal the surprising way of God. The good news is not always easy to embrace and follow. Another glimpse of blessings and woes in the reign of God is found in Jeremiah 17:5–10. Here the prophet describes those who fail to trust God’s promises as plants perishing in a parched land. Those who trust God are described as trees planted by streams of water. Also using the image of trees planted near streams, we are encouraged in Psalm 1 to bear the good fruit of God’s wisdom. This psalm celebrates a life that is dedicated to living in God’s way. Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:12–20 that we are able to bear the fruit of God’s righteousness in our lives because of the resurrection of Christ. Since Christ has been raised from the dead, those who are grounded in Christ’s promise are able to celebrate new life. To Paul, there is strength for today in this future hope. There are blessings and woes in life, and God’s people are not exempt. Trusting God’s promises, we are blessed in order to bring healing and blessing to others, inviting them to participate in the vision offered in Jesus’ teaching. What strengthens you to continue bearing such fruit?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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