Living Life Backwards
On our vacation, Cyndi and I played a lot of golf. But one hole we played was especially memorable. Terrifying, in fact. It was steep and the grass was wet. Cyndi said, “Shouldn’t we stay on the cart path? I said, “Nah…they’d have signs up if it were cart path only.” So, I started straight down this very steep, very wet hill.
Almost immediately, we were in trouble. The brakes started chattering and suddenly, the cart whipped around 180 degrees, and we were flying down that steep, wet hill backwards. There was no way I could stop or get turned back around. So, I looked over my shoulder…and just steered backwards as we flew down the hill. Fortunately, there was an area of tall grass. I aimed for that and finally, we jerked to a stop.
The cart refused to move. As if it were saying, “You are an idiot and I’m going to make you sit here and think about what you did.” Finally, after it decided I had been adequately chastened, the cart re-set…and we were able to drive out. It sounds funny now…but honestly, at the time, I was terrified at how close my stubbornness got us to rolling that cart and doing real harm to my beloved…and to my own stupid self.
As we continue this morning in our journey through the gospel of Luke, we come to Jesus’ first sermon since he preached to his hometown crowd in Nazareth. In the section we know as “The Beatitudes,” Jesus is about to flip our lives completely around.
“And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophet.” Luke 6:17-26
It’s never a compliment to describe someone as a “spin doctor.” Bad things are really good, dark is really light, down is really up. In other words…all those campaign ads we have suffered through these last many months! But this text? You’d swear Jesus was the ultimate spin doctor. He turns reality on its head. All the world’s rules are flip-flopped. Ask the man on the street what is required to be happy in life. “Money, food, health, popularity.” But Jesus has a different list, a list that would never occur to us.
Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry….Blessed are you who weep…. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil.
Really? Because that doesn’t sound very blessed to me. Poor…hungry…heart-broken…hated…excluded…reviled…spurned? If that is a blessing, you might say, then give me the cursing. Give me the woes! This is confusing, isn’t it? It makes no sense. What do we do with these familiar but challenging words?
Well, here’s what we don’t do. We don’t spiritualize them. What do I mean? I mean…we tend to prefer Matthew’s version of Beatitudes…the one in the Sermon on the Mount. (Luke’s is the Sermon on the Plain). Matthew’s version is more spiritual. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor.” Matt says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Luke says, “Blessed are you who are hungry.”
Do you see the difference? Matthew focuses on spiritual realities: those who are poor in spirit; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But Luke is concerned with the present social injustices: the poor…period. The hungry …period!
Turns out, this is Luke’s passion: the gospel for the outsider and downtrodden. It’s Luke who offers the gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews; unimaginable! It is Luke who makes room at the gospel table for women who, at this time, were merely the possessions of their husbands. It is Luke who lifts up the poor, the dispossessed, and the disenfranchised.