If you were to spend a day watching commercials, you would glimpse what most people consider the “good life” to be. Whether it is laundry detergent or a sports car, the good life consists of riches, satisfaction, joy, and praise.
A child pulls his favorite t-shirt out of a dryer and looks up at you with joy. Riches enabled you to buy this front-loading washer with the steam cycle for stain removal. The washer gave you a soft, clean t-shirt which satisfied your child. Your child’s happiness with his favorite t-shirt caused his eyes to light up with joy. And his joy is an act of praise for your discernment as a parent.
Riches, satisfaction, joy, and praise. These four qualities are woven together in our marketplace and these four attributes shape the expectations we have of the good life. This is what we strive to achieve.
The problem, however, is we can let these qualities shape our expectations of God. Lest there be any confusion, Jesus speaks directly and clearly today in our reading from Luke. He curses and reverses the way our world expects God to work.
In his sermon on the plain, Jesus offers those who would follow Him eight blessings and curses. These blessings and curses are not random. They are closely related. Four blessings, four curses, evenly matched and radically opposed to the ways of our world.
In the ways of our world, people expect God to work in riches, satisfaction, joy, and praise. God bestows riches on His people so they might find satisfaction in life, experience joy, and receive praise for their work. That is what our world expects.
But Jesus does something different, something disconcerting. Jesus teaches us how God works in a hidden way. God works in poverty not riches, hunger not satisfaction, weeping not joy, and rejection, not praise.
God works in poverty not riches, hunger not satisfaction, weeping not joy, and rejection, not praise.
With clear, contrasting parallelism, Jesus curses our cultural expectations. He says “woe” to those who are rich (verse 24), satisfied (verse 25a), joyful (verse 25b), and praised (verse 26). The good life of our world is not good for discipleship.
Our world tempts us to measure God’s grace by the goodness we receive. It is not a sin to be rich, to have satisfaction, to experience joy, or to be praised... but when you use these qualities to measure whether or not God is working in your life, you end up limiting God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom shrinks. It only includes certain people and certain experiences in life.
For example, if you measure God by the riches He gives you, then the loss of a job takes you out of God’s Kingdom. God is either not working for you or, worse yet, He is working against you. Your lack of employment makes it hard to put food on the table, so you and your family are not satisfied. This lack of satisfaction causes your marriage to sour and soon you experience rejection. Your in-laws say you are, “Not able to hold down a job.” Blinded by the standards of our world, we would say God is not working here in a time of unemployment and we shrink God’s Kingdom.
Jesus curses that way of looking at things. But He does not only curse, He also blesses. And in that blessing, Jesus reverses things. He reverses our blindness. He helps us see God in the most unlikely of places.
Imagine what might have happened to one of the people gathered there to hear Jesus preach. She had travelled from Sidon into the region of Galilee to see Jesus (verse 17). She knew because of her Gentile heritage she would not be welcome here. But she needed to see Jesus. She heard He could do amazing things. He could cast out demons and heal the sick. So, she brought her child to Jesus and watched as power went out from Him and healed her daughter’s blindness (verse 19).
If she had gone home at this point, she would have had an experience of the Kingdom, but it would be a limited kingdom. It would have been a place where God only works with riches, satisfaction, joy, and praise.
Rather than go home, she stayed. She stayed to listen to Jesus, and He opened up a richer, fuller kingdom for her.
Jesus promises to work in the places our world would say are God-forsaken. He reveals this to us by his death on a cross.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (verse 20). His words were life-giving. They opened the Kingdom of Heaven to those who were counted the least.
With four blessings, Jesus reveals how God’s Kingdom is far wider than we could ever imagine. Poverty (verse 20), hunger (verse 21a), weeping (verse 21b), and social rejection (verse 22) do not pose problems for God. In fact, God brings His blessings into these experiences.
God cannot be limited by worldly possessions or experience. No, God has come to bring His Kingdom to all.
This is the larger story of Jesus in Luke. With gracious power, Jesus comes to reclaim and redeem the world. Jesus will enter into situations of poverty (16:19-31), hunger (9:10-17), weeping (Luke 7:11-17), and rejection (9:21-27) and bring about God's grace.
Jesus promises to work in the places our world would say are God-forsaken. He reveals this to us by His death on a cross. Jesus enters into painful humiliation. He bears God’s wrath on a greedy and adulterous generation so He might rise and create a humble and faithful body of believers. He comes and brings grace to you. Your sins are forgiven, and your life is His.
In the Kingdom of God, by grace, a job loss can be a place of God’s working. Hunger can be used to draw us closer to Jesus. Weeping can inspire hopeful longing. And rejection can be endured in a courageous confession of His rule.
With these words, Jesus curses and reverses our world’s way of living. He lives to stand by you in situations of suffering and bring about His promised blessing.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 6:17-26.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 6:17-26.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 6:17-26.