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Reflections on the Gospels, Week before November 3, 2013


Luke 6:20-31

20Then 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. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to 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 what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What I Am Learning:

At first reading Jesus seems to be telling us that the poor are “good” and the rich are “bad.” Therefore, if you want God to love and if you want to go to heaven when you die then you had better be poor.

Jesus is not talking about requirements for entrance to heaven. Nor is he telling us who is good and who is bad and what we need to do to be good.

Rather he is countering what could be called the “prosperity gospel” of his own day. The idea is quite simple: if you are a good person God blesses you with prosperity and if you are not then God punishes you with trials and poverty. While they did not call this the “prosperity gospel” in Jesus’ day, many certainly judged themselves and judged others by it.

The prosperity gospel blames the poor for being poor. It does so even when the economic system is set up to disadvantage them.

The prosperity gospel teaches that the rich are extra-special and are deserving of their wealth. It does so even when the economic system is setup to advantage them.

The prosperity gospel blesses a society in which some have and some have not. It accuses God of enforcing poverty on some while blessing others with great wealth. It says that God is in cahoots with an economic system in which many live in poverty. It makes God an accessory to economic injustice.

The word “blessed” here means many things: fortunate, God speaking well of someone, and highly honored in society.

Jesus is taking on this prosperity gospel in his own day by reversing what people would have typically expected. In Jesus’ theology, God honors and speaks well of those who are typically thought to be of low status. In fact, Jesus seems to say that they have a special gift in that they can more readily recognize that the economic system and the whole culture are broken – thus they are more ready to receive the changes that God is bringing.

The word “woe” is basically means “you are in really big doo-doo.” It means that you have behaved in a way that is deeply contradictory to God’s intention and thus are at the bottom of the honor ranking. It is a warning and an invitation to change.

This is another example of this kind of “Great Reversal” that Jesus proclaims throughout Luke.

Jesus is announcing in Luke that the exploitative economic system of the Roman Empire is going to be replaced by another system. He called this the reign of God.

Then he lays out the way God’s way of mutuality will emerge: It will not come through violent revolution but by loving our enemies, claiming our dignity when struck, remembering that the thief is a child of God and is more important than your cloak, to give to those who have less than you: to live the law of spoken in Leviticus of doing to others what you would like done to you.

As we speak, people are working hard at McDonalds to make a Big Mac®. They make about $9.00 per hour. If they work at McDonalds full time with no vacation they make $18720 per year before taxes. It is estimated that McDonalds employees cost the the state and federal government $1.2 billion a year in support and aid. McDonalds corporation makes $1.5 billion a year in profits.

As we speak, a woman is working hard to make clothes for Old Navy in Mexico.  Her family used to be farmers, but have been forced off their land because of cheap corn from the US. The shirt they make only costs $9.00. But this woman makes only a few dollars a day to provide for her children.

She works hard. McDonalds employees work hard. I work hard. You work hard. A lot of CEO’s work hard. But not all of us benefit equally from our work, or even close to equally.

Many would say that those who are poor are less deserving than others. Some would say that God blesses some with more wealth than others.

Jesus suggests that isn’t true. That in God’s economy all will have enough to live on and all will be respected and honored.

Jesus encourages his disciples to behave as if God’s reign and God’s economy are already here.

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