Blessings and Woes

By David Baumann

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 6:12-26

12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

17 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, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases, and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven, for that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “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.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.


Why are the naming of the Twelve and the Beatitudes side by side? Take a closer look, and the deep implications of these events come out.

Before calling the Twelve, Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray” and “all night continued in prayer.” A mountain is one of the recognized sites of profound, revelatory encounter with God. Jesus selects the Twelve after this prayerful encounter, and the Twelve include “Jesus Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

By being chosen, was Judas set up? Or did Jesus hope that Judas would remain faithful? But if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, how would the great sacrifice for the sins of the world have occurred? We can only guess, although guesswork about the inner life of Judas (or anyone else) is of minimal value. But we can be confident that if Judas had remained faithful, the Father’s will would have been done another way. There are plenty of places in the gospels that describe the fidelity of the Twelve, including Judas, and his fall at the end is a chilling warning to any disciple. Remember that when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” the Eleven didn’t look slyly at Judas; they asked, “Lord, is it I?”

The Beatitudes are in a form different from that found in Matthew. In Luke, we have four blessings and four woes. They describe varied circumstances of life, along with faithful or unfaithful responses. The blessings are all about conditions the world looks down on: poverty, hunger, weeping, and being hated. And the woes are all about conditions the world honors: wealth, satiety, laughter, and having a good reputation. This is a challenge to the world, but also a pattern for those who would live as beloved, rejoicing in God rather than rejecting him, in all the mystery of life and human choosing.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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