Jesus is trying to share a set of core values with his disciples, these are like the building blocks for the ways Jesus is teaching us and his disciples to live out the law of love. How can this list of blessings and woes be the core values for a rule of life? How can they be building blocks for discipleship? Well maybe we need to hear them and hold them with fresh ears to the language that Jesus uses.
We generally hear the word “makarios” from the Greek translated as “blessed” or “happy”, but “unburdened” or “satisfied” are equally accurate translations. The word “ouai” from the Greek is usually translated here as “woe”, but it truly does not mean “cursed” or “unhappy”. A better sense of “ouai” might be expressed as “yikes” or “watch out”, it is a declaration intended as an attention getter or a way to emotionally impact our tendencies and direction. And we have to remember, in the perspective Luke offers us on Jesus, the reign of God is among you right now and it is available for you to participate in by the setting of your heart and mind and the actions of your mouth, hands, and feet.
If that’s the case, we are asked to reassess our lives, our actions and internal perspectives on the world that guide our actions, in light of these core values.
- Unburdened are those who are poor because you are already relying on God’s kingdom.
- Unburdened are you who hunger, because your need will be satisfied.
- Unburdened are you who weep, because you will be surrounded by support until you can laugh again.
- Unburdened are you when people hate, reject, insult, or condemn you because of acting in Christ’s ways.
- Joy will come to you from God in different ways through this law of love.
- But, yikes, watch out if you are rich, because you are surrounded by your comfort already.
- Yikes, watch out, you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry.
- Yikes, watch out, you who laugh now, because your mourning and weeping will come.
- Yikes, watch out, when people speak well of you for that’s what was done in the past with false prophets.
How are we being asked to actively reassess our lives? By looking at our lives alongside these core values. How do we live in relationship with God in ways that leave us unburdened? By creating these realities. How do we live in relationship with God in ways that don’t lead us to say, “Yikes, watch out!”? By catching ourselves when we are feeling a bit too satiated and comfortable.
The last segment of this passage backs up this more nuanced reading with its list of straightforward commands: love your enemies; do good to all, but especially those who meet you with hatred; bless those who curse you, pray for those who offer mistreatment; treat people in the same way that you want to be treated.
If these core values, the building blocks, are the recipes for living that help us to be present to God, then to come in ways that allow us to unburden ourselves with God and not need, yikes, reminders that we are straying too far away from God’s hope for us, then they can offer the structure we need. But the structure without something to help it hold together, becomes frail and fragile, easily torn apart and knocked over. For the bricks to hold together, some mortar is needed to bind us. And it is the cloud of witnesses that has the power to do this binding together through the years, through all the variations that life has presented us with. These core values, these beatitudes, only work when we are in deep, meaningful, and trusting relationships with each other. We can only come to God and be unburdened when we have each other to share the weights that we encounter in life. We can only be in solid relationship with God and one another, when we aren’t, yikes, watch out, too comfortable in our self-reliance and separateness.
How does adding the mortar, the relationships that bind us together in the cloud of witnesses, change what we can build?