Luke 6:17–26 17He went down with them and stood on a level place with a large crowd of his disciples, and a large number of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, as well as from the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon. These people came to listen to him and to be healed of their diseases. 18Those who were troubled by unclean spirits were also cured. 19The whole crowd kept trying to touch him, because power was going out from him and healing them all.
20He lifted up his eyes to his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, because yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh. 22Blessed are you whenever people hate you, and whenever they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man.
23“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because of this: Your reward is great in heaven! The fact is, their fathers constantly did the same things to the prophets. 24But woe to you who are rich, because you are receiving your comfort now. 25Woe to you who are well fed now, because you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, because you will be mourning and weeping. 26Woe to you when all people speak well of you, because that is how their fathers constantly treated the false prophets.
When someone asks, “How are you?” You will usually reply, “Fine” or “Good.”
If you ask me how I’m doing, I will reply, “Fantastic!” My dad will answer, “Better than I deserve.” I know one pastor who will always respond, “I’m living the dream!”
But what if you aren’t fantastic or fine? What if you feel like God is pounding on you because of what you deserve? What if your life seems more like a nightmare than a dream?
Jesus ministers to us when we are fine and fantastic. He also ministers to us when we are unhealthy and unpleasant. He blesses us in all those situations.
After calling his twelve disciples (Luke 6:13-16), Jesus begins their intensive Seminary training. He first introduces them to the mass of mankind in need of their ministry. Jesus is quickly surrounded by a horde of humanity who have traveled from the south from Judea and from the west along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They want to hear Jesus teach God’s Word. Those with diseases also want to be healed by the Son of Man (Luke 6:17-18).
These are not people who are fantastic or living the dream. Many of them are not even been fine. They are diseased, crippled and demon-possessed.
American artist, Benjamin West, in his artwork entitled “Jesus Healing the Sick in the Temple” created a painting of Jesus surrounded by a mass of humanity. Sick children, crippled adults, the diseased and demon-possessed are all around Jesus. Yet he takes the time to teach and heal (Luke 6:18-19).
To all these people – in their health or sickness, their wealth or poverty, their dreams or nightmares – Jesus teaches that they are blessed.
“Blessed are you who are poor, because yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh. Blessed are you whenever people hate you, and whenever they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:20-22).
With these words, Jesus is teaching a radical reversal of almost everything we have ever been taught about blessing. We believe that we are blessed by God when we are wealthy and healthy, living in big homes in nice neighborhoods, comfortable and quiet. That’s what we have learned from our culture. But Jesus runs counter to our culture. God’s kind of blessing is often the exact opposite of what we and the rest of the world consider a blessing.
We can apply Jesus’ words first physically and then spiritually.
Jesus says that we are blessed when we are poor, hungry, weeping and hated. He teaches that we are truly blessed when we are so poor that we must beg. Christians realize that we are nothing in God’s sight. Our good actions are tainted with sin. Everything we work for, own and hold dear are gifts from a good and gracious God. We bring nothing to God. He brings everything to us. These four beatitudes – or statements of blessing – can be summed up in a single phrase, “blessed are the beggars.”
“We are all beggars, this is true.” Martin Luther had written those words in preparation for his death. In those days, it was common to spend a great deal of effort planning one’s burial and carefully choosing one’s last words. We don’t know if Luther actually said these words. They were written on a piece of paper on a nightstand next to his bed. Regardless, the truth remains – we are all beggars, this is true.
Our physical poverty that makes us poor and hungry are not fun. They create long hours at work, stress at home, and hungry bellies at night. As Christians, though, we know we are still blessed. Even when we have little, God is still blessing us with daily bread (Luke 11:3). Whether we are blessed with a little or blessed with a lot – we are still blessed. This is why we learn to pray, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16).
Our spiritual poverty that makes us poor and hungry is usually caused because we think we are having fun. We have our own “pet sins” that we commit – those sins that we are tempted to commit repeatedly. As Christians, we are never truly happy when we commit these sins. Our sinful nature may enjoy these sins of the flesh and mind, but we always end up feel guilty afterwards. This guilt drags us down and leads us to despair and depression.
Jesus teaches that we are blessed when we get rid of these sins. Give them to Jesus. As beggars, beg for Jesus’ mercy, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Starve your sinful nature. Don’t give in to its cravings. Hunger instead for Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness. Be fed with the Bread of Life. Be refreshed with the Water of Life. When you are rich in Christ’s forgiveness and fed with God’s Word, then you are truly blessed.
Mourning the death of a loved one is never pleasant. Death has ripped another family member or friend out of your life. There is a gaping hole in your heart. You miss your parent, child, spouse or friend terribly. Yet, because your loved one was a Christian, you are blessed. Your mourning is turned to laughter. You know you will see your sainted family member in heaven again. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
Mourning over the death of your sins that you love and hold dear is never pleasant, either. We cling so tightly to our sins that we may say with our mouths, “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.” But with our minds we are thinking, “I know it was wrong, God, but it felt so good.” Or, “God, please forgive me so that I can commit this same sin again tomorrow.” Feel sorrow over how you have treated those in your home. Feel remorse that you have crucified the Christ with your sins. Feel sadness that every time you sin, you slap God in the face.
When you mourn over your sins, you will be comforted. Christ forgives you. He washes away your sins with the power of his Holy Baptism. He comforts you with his sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus says to us when we mourn over our sins, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
We also receive blessing when we are suffering for Jesus’ sake. Jesus must have raised a few eyebrows when he said that we are blessed by being hated, excluded, insulted and rejected because of our connection to him.
Actor Christ Pratt is lambasted for attending a church that holds to the biblical principles of sexuality. Our Vice President’s wife, Mrs. Pence, is denounced for teaching at a Christian school that (gasp!) holds to Christian principles. Covington Catholic high school students are smeared in social media because they support their President by wearing Make America Great Again hats.
People are going to persecute, exclude us, and pummel us in the media for no other reason than our connection to the Son of Man. When they speak the name “Christian,” they will make it sound as though the very name is something evil.
Jesus says we are in good company when we are persecuted for our faith. We are suffering like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Moses and Daniel. We are enduring pain like Paul and Peter and Stephen. We are abused and shamed just as Christ was abused and shamed. We are enduring it all for him. We endure this suffering because he endured it first for us. When we suffer for Jesus’ sake, we really aren’t doing anything all that extraordinary. Jesus endured mockery and shame, betrayal and beatings, he endured the cross and separation from his heavenly Father. He endured all that for us. When we suffer for Jesus’ sake, we are really saying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for what you went through for me. Please let me show you my gratitude by standing up for you.” We rejoice in our persecution because we are being counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). It may sound strange, but there really is a joyous and satisfying feeling that comes from suffering in the name of Jesus. That is God’s kind of blessing.
It should not surprise us that we are persecuted for our faith. What should surprise us is if we are not being persecuted, because then people cannot see our faith. They don’t know we are Christians because we aren’t looking or sounding like Christians. We are blessed when we suffer in the name of Christ because it proves that we belong to him. St. Peter, who knew quite a bit about suffering, wrote his epistles to Christians who were suffering great persecution. He reminded them, “If you are insulted in connection with the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:14).
It sounds counter-intuitive that we are blessed when we are poor, hungry, weeping and hated. It sounds even more crazy when Jesus adds, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because of this: Your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23)!
In our world, the rich, powerful and happy are blessed. Jesus turns our world upside down so we may be saved. He blesses the poor with the riches of His grace. He blesses the hungry with the good things in His house. He blesses the weeping with resurrection hope. He even blesses those who are hated, insulted, and persecuted, because these things are happening to them because they are connected to Christ.
When you are asked how you are, better than saying “I’m doing all right” or “I’m having a tough day”, why not answer, “I’m blessed”?
Perhaps saying “I’m blessed” might seem a bit arrogant or over-confident. After all, we consider being blessed as being wonderfully happy, having great health, walking around with a wad of cash in our pocket and enjoying life. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of blessing. However, when your car slides into the ditch on an icy road, you feel miserable with the flu, your child’s science fair project is late, and dinner is ruined – all on the same day – you can still say you are blessed.
That’s because God’s blessing is not based on our physical or material windfall. Being blessed is being connected to Jesus by faith. Whether you are the sick and crippled in the crowd or those who are touched and healed by Jesus, you are blessed. You are blessed in all things by the Creator who created and preserves you, blessed in all things by the Redeemer who bled and died to save you, and blessed in all things by the Sanctifier who brought you and keeps you in the one true faith.
Your reward is great in heaven. Now you can say, “I’m blessed.” Amen.