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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

Luke 6:17-26 - link to NRSV text

I have a bit of a strange attraction to what some call the "difficult sayings" of Jesus (what can I say?  I did my master's thesis on the "Parable of the Unrighteous Steward"), so believe it or not, I actually like the "woes" in today's gospel. I think sometimes these "difficult sayings" -- things like "whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" -- can serve a purpose a little like that of a Zen koan -- those 'riddles' like "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" A koan pulls our minds in to confound them, and that kind of dislocation from our usual ways of thinking helps us to open up and let go of them. Jesus' difficult sayings pull us out of entrenched patterns of relationship and ways of being in the world; they dislocate us from what's comfortable to free us to establish new kinds of relationship, new ways of being.

So even though my $36,000 annual income puts me among the rich -- I'm in the top 4.33% in the world in terms of wealth, according to the Global Rich List (a site you should definitely check out as you reflect on this coming Sunday's gospel!) -- I hear Good News and I find freedom in the Lucan woes.

Our culture has its own beatitudes and woes. They're deeply ingrained in us almost from day one, and they don't look much like this coming Sunday's gospel. K.C. Hanson argues persuasively that <I>makarios</i>, the word here translated by the NRSV as "blessed," would be better translated as "how honorable," and ouai, the word translated by the NRSV as "woe," would be better translated as "how shameless." As expressions of community values, I sometimes think of them as the equivalent of "we salute" and "we scorn." If our culture gave its beatitudes and woes, they might look something like this:

We salute the rich, for they are our major donors.
We salute the achievers, for we hope we'll become what we envy.
We salute the winners, for we hope they'll reward our loyalty.
We salute the strong, for nobody can tell them what to do.

We scorn the poor, for they remind us of our failure to share.
We scorn the hungry, for we fear they will disrupt our lunch to beg.
We scorn those who weep, for they remind us of vulnerabilities we try to deny or hide.
We scorn those the world scorns, for this demonstrates that we, unlike they, are insiders.

That's not Jesus' vision of the world. That's not the network of relationships in which we can be who God made us to be. But how do we get out of it? Jesus' "woes" are just the kick in the behind we need to get started, as the first thing I think we have to realize if we really want to see change is that the way things are isn't working for us. To paraphrase Lilly Tomlin, winning the rat race more than anything else confirms that we're rats, and that's not who we are in Christ. Wanting to win that race is so deeply ingrained in us, though, that sometimes we need to take a hard look through Jesus' eyes at what that prize we're going for really is, and whether it's really what we want and need. It isn't first prize in the rat race; that's not going to fulfill us.

A good step toward what will fulfill us would be living into the beatitudes, spending our money, our time, and our power, the currency that counts in our culture, on the people whom Jesus calls honored -- on those whose lack of power keeps them poor, and whose poverty keeps them disempowered and on the margins.

Jesus challenges us in this Sunday's gospel to try saying, "We honor not those who have the most to give, but those the world honors least. We invest not in those who are most likely to pay us back with interest or loyalty, but in those the world calls worthless. We salute the losers, the weak, the vulnerable." And then he challenges us to live it. That's what's going to fulfill us. We come to Jesus like the crowds, seeking healing. We come as people who scorn in others what we most fear for and in ourselves. As we learn to let go of the honor, the wealth, and the power we have so we can invest it freely in the poor, the despised, and the powerless, we become agents of healing for others, and we find healing for the parts of ourselves we used to scorn in them.

Thanks be to God!

February 9, 2004 in Luke, Year C | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

« Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C | Main | Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C »

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

Luke 6:17-26 - link to NRSV text

I have a bit of a strange attraction to what some call the "difficult sayings" of Jesus (what can I say?  I did my master's thesis on the "Parable of the Unrighteous Steward"), so believe it or not, I actually like the "woes" in today's gospel. I think sometimes these "difficult sayings" -- things like "whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" -- can serve a purpose a little like that of a Zen koan -- those 'riddles' like "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" A koan pulls our minds in to confound them, and that kind of dislocation from our usual ways of thinking helps us to open up and let go of them. Jesus' difficult sayings pull us out of entrenched patterns of relationship and ways of being in the world; they dislocate us from what's comfortable to free us to establish new kinds of relationship, new ways of being.

So even though my $36,000 annual income puts me among the rich -- I'm in the top 4.33% in the world in terms of wealth, according to the Global Rich List (a site you should definitely check out as you reflect on this coming Sunday's gospel!) -- I hear Good News and I find freedom in the Lucan woes.

Our culture has its own beatitudes and woes. They're deeply ingrained in us almost from day one, and they don't look much like this coming Sunday's gospel. K.C. Hanson argues persuasively that <I>makarios</i>, the word here translated by the NRSV as "blessed," would be better translated as "how honorable," and ouai, the word translated by the NRSV as "woe," would be better translated as "how shameless." As expressions of community values, I sometimes think of them as the equivalent of "we salute" and "we scorn." If our culture gave its beatitudes and woes, they might look something like this:

We salute the rich, for they are our major donors.
We salute the achievers, for we hope we'll become what we envy.
We salute the winners, for we hope they'll reward our loyalty.
We salute the strong, for nobody can tell them what to do.

We scorn the poor, for they remind us of our failure to share.
We scorn the hungry, for we fear they will disrupt our lunch to beg.
We scorn those who weep, for they remind us of vulnerabilities we try to deny or hide.
We scorn those the world scorns, for this demonstrates that we, unlike they, are insiders.

That's not Jesus' vision of the world. That's not the network of relationships in which we can be who God made us to be. But how do we get out of it? Jesus' "woes" are just the kick in the behind we need to get started, as the first thing I think we have to realize if we really want to see change is that the way things are isn't working for us. To paraphrase Lilly Tomlin, winning the rat race more than anything else confirms that we're rats, and that's not who we are in Christ. Wanting to win that race is so deeply ingrained in us, though, that sometimes we need to take a hard look through Jesus' eyes at what that prize we're going for really is, and whether it's really what we want and need. It isn't first prize in the rat race; that's not going to fulfill us.

A good step toward what will fulfill us would be living into the beatitudes, spending our money, our time, and our power, the currency that counts in our culture, on the people whom Jesus calls honored -- on those whose lack of power keeps them poor, and whose poverty keeps them disempowered and on the margins.

Jesus challenges us in this Sunday's gospel to try saying, "We honor not those who have the most to give, but those the world honors least. We invest not in those who are most likely to pay us back with interest or loyalty, but in those the world calls worthless. We salute the losers, the weak, the vulnerable." And then he challenges us to live it. That's what's going to fulfill us. We come to Jesus like the crowds, seeking healing. We come as people who scorn in others what we most fear for and in ourselves. As we learn to let go of the honor, the wealth, and the power we have so we can invest it freely in the poor, the despised, and the powerless, we become agents of healing for others, and we find healing for the parts of ourselves we used to scorn in them.

Thanks be to God!

February 9, 2004 in Luke, Year C | Permalink

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.