Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Most people like reversal-of-fortune stories. We like it when someone who couldn’t catch a break, who’s always on the short end of the stick, who can never do enough to get out of a hole, finally gets a reversal of fortune. Now, for whatever reason, they start getting good things; they start getting breaks; they start getting what we think they deserve.
We also like the other kind of reversal-of-fortune stories, the ones where someone seems to get all the breaks, all the good things, all the riches and success, and then, all of a sudden, they have everything taken from them. We especially like it when the person is portrayed as evil, and then receives evil. But even if the person is generally good, don’t we take a little bit of pleasure in seeing them lowered down to where, we think, the “rest of us” are?
And while we watch or read these stories, we like to observe. But we would also be happy to be in the first kind of story, the sort of rags-to-riches story we all like, but don’t get to experience. We would not, however, like to be at the center of the second kind of story, where we lose everything we have. For the most part, we would rather be observers of reversal-of-fortune stories, not in them.
Well, Jesus tells a reversal-of-fortune story here in Luke 6. Actually, it’s not a reversal of fortunes, since that often implies something like fate, whether it’s tied to what we’ve done or not. In this case, it’s a reversal of blessings and woes, or blessings and curses. And blessings and woes are not impersonal forces, but the result of God’s action. God blesses. God sends woes. And whatever we might think about the sort of reversal-of-fortune stories that are common subjects of books or movies, there is not much to like or hope for in what Jesus says. He not only reverses fortunes, He reverses what we expect.
Look at those whom Jesus calls blessed and those on whom He pronounces woe. These are exactly the reverse of what we would generally call blessings and woes, or curses. Jesus says the blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated. Who wants to be one of those? And Jesus says woe to the rich, the full, the laughing, and those of whom everyone speaks well. Who doesn’t want to be one of those? Aren’t riches, full stomachs, laughter, and being well-spoken-of exactly the sort of things that we call “blessings”? And wouldn’t poverty, hunger, weeping, and being hated be exactly the sort of things that we would call the opposite of blessings, even curses?
Now, to be clear, Jesus never says that poverty, hunger, weeping, and being hated are themselves blessings. And He also doesn’t say that riches, satisfaction, laughing, and being loved by everyone are themselves curses. But He does say “blessed” and “woe to” the people in those states and circumstances. He reverses our expectations and our natural assumptions to tell us that something has gone so wrong in this creation and in us that we cannot actually trust our natural instincts about what is good and evil, and what things are signs of blessings and curses.
And that’s precisely the key: Jesus is speaking of life in this creation, in a world that is subject to sin and death and corruption. Because God never created a world in which people should be subject to poverty, hunger, weeping, and being hated. These are all things that are foreign to the creation God made. They literally do not belong. But as it is, the world has gone wrong because we have gone wrong. Our hearts are wrong, our loves are wrong, our desires are wrong, our judgments are wrong. And when everyone is disordered and false, that adds up to a whole creation gone wrong.
Whatever your opinion or position on climate change science or the arguments that are taking place about how much humans have contributed to the problem, and how much humans can contribute to its solution—whatever your position on that, the Scriptures are absolutely clear: the corruption and decay in this creation is tied directly to human sin. What has gone wrong in this creation is tied directly to what humans have done wrong. The curse on the earth is tied directly to Adam’s sin, and repeated and emphasized after Cain’s murder of his brother (Genesis 3:17-19; 4:10-12). And Paul says in Romans 8 that the whole creation has been subjected to futility, not from its own will, but because of the will of the God who subjected it (Romans 8:20). Moses calls heaven and earth to witness against the sin, rebellion, and unbelief of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1). So when people say that humans are responsible for everything that’s gone wrong, they’re right but probably for the wrong reasons. And when they say that humans can fix it, they’re wrong. There is only one who can fix both the creation and the people who live in it, and that’s Jesus, the new creation from Mary’s flesh.
Only in Christ will this creation be put right, the futility and decay and corruption reversed. Because just as the curse is tied to human sin, from Adam until now, so also is the blessing tied to Jesus’ restoration of people and all creation with them. All creation groans and waits with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God, in the redemption of their bodies, when creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21-24).
Because of sin and death, blessings look like curses to us, and curses look like blessings. So Jesus not only preaches a reversal of all that, He is the reversal of all that. There He is, in the original blessing wrapped up in a curse. In the very first curse spoken over the serpent for its part in the deception and sin of Eve and Adam, God wraps up a blessing: I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her Offspring. You will bruise His heel, and He will bruise your head. In the serpent’s curse is the blessing of One who would come to undo and reverse what we have done. That the Seed of the woman would bruise and conquer the serpent and all his evil offspring.
And His work is a blessing hidden in a curse, as the creation falls apart. The cross is a curse, and so is everyone who is hung upon one. But in that curse is the blessing that He gives, His life for all. And at that curse, the heavens are darkened and the earth is shaken as their Creator is crucified. But He reverses even death in His resurrection, and heaven and earth rejoice at the hope of their restoration.
This Blessed One then brings blessing on those who live in this creation, subject to poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, and whatever else has been corrupted by sin. You are blessed, Jesus says, because I’m giving you the kingdom of God. You are blessed because I am the bread of life. You are blessed because I am the consolation of God for you. You are blessed because I am your exceedingly great reward. Everything else will turn out to be woe. If you have everything you need in the riches and success of this world, you will find only its rot and decay. If you have your satisfaction in the things of this world, you will find that it turns to dust with your flesh. If you have your joy in the things of this world, that’s all the joy you will have. And if everyone in this world speaks well of you, then you do not belong to Jesus. If everyone in this world speaks well of the Church, it cannot be the Church of Jesus Christ, who was betrayed and abandoned, mocked, suffered, and was crucified. If you are close to that Jesus, then the same things will happen. This world is upside down. It cannot recognize what is true blessing, and so it cannot recognize what is truly cursed. Jesus puts things back again, and shows us what is of eternal worth.
So whatever happens to us; whatever we experience; whatever people say of us; whatever we have or don’t have; none of that determines what is good or bad, blessing or woe. Christ is everything, and if we are in Christ, then He will be our blessing, and nothing else. And with Christ comes everything. All were healed. Our bodies will be put right in the resurrection, and everything else along with them. All creation will be set free from the corruption of sin and death. And then we will see the greatest reversal of all: the dead are raised to live forever in the Blessing of Christ in His fully good creation.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/15/19