As promised on Monday, today I feel compelled to write something coherent about Luke’s version of the beatitudes from Matthew. As one compares the two sets of teachings, two things come immediately into focus. First, as I noted on Monday, Luke is much more focused on the nitty gritty, real life stuff. Second, while Matthew is focused solely on the the “Blessed are you…”s, Luke deals with both the blessing and its opposite woe.
Blessed are you who are poor | Woe to you who are rich
Blessed are you who are hungry | Woe to you who are full
Blessed are you who weep | Woe to you who are laughing
Blessed are you when people hate you | Woe to you when all speak well of you
This parallel structure indicates that Jesus was a really good rhetorical preacher, but it also helps to highlight what Jesus is doing in this scene. The disciples, to whom Jesus is explicitly speaking, as well as the crowd, which we have to assume is still lingering in the background, would hear these words for Jesus and immediately have their minds taken to the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy. On the heels of some pretty pointed teaching about the sabbath in Luke 6:1ff, Jesus seems to be reordering the Law by highlighting its root intention.
In Deuteronomy 28, Moses sets down a list of blessings for those who “fully obey the LORD and follow all the commandments of God.” Similarly, Moses lays out a list of curses that will fall upon all those who “do not obey the LORD and carefully follow God’s commandments.” Over time, these blessings and curses had come to be associated with the letter of the law – be eat working on the sabbath or the very particular way in pots must be washed – but here Jesus is harkening the crowd back to their roots.
It isn’t about the letter of the law, but rather the spirit of the law. The letter of the law has created a world in which there are the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. The letter of the law, in its current abusive incarnation, has made a class of those who are so rich that they don’t know what to do with themselves, who are so satiated and yet still want more, who look down on those who are less fortunate than themselves and laugh with scorn. Here, Jesus calls “Horse Hockey” on those who have interpreted the law to their own economic advantage.
“You may be blessed now,” Jesus intimates, “but if your whole worldview is aimed at filling your barns today, that’s all you’ll ever achieve. Instead, in the great reversal of the Kingdom, it will be those whose lives were dedicated to others, who found themselves poor and neglected, who were committed to deep relationships who will find themselves blessed. Oh, and if you think that you can use this teaching to hold other down by some kind of promise of future redemption, you too will find yourself in amongst the woes.”