Often one of the qualities that some of our most loved movies have in common regardless of the genre or when they came out is how quotable they are. Many of us likely have beloved quotes from some our favorite movies that are often floating around somewhere in the back of our minds. Given how much we love a good movie quote, it is odd just how often we get them wrong. For instance, one of my absolute favorite movies is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and arguably the most well-known quote form that movie is “Luke, I am Your Father.” But that line does not actually appear in the movie. In the same way nowhere in all of Star Trek television or movies does Captain Kirk ever say the phrase “Beam me up Scotty.” There are dozens and dozens of examples of movie quotes that are misremembered. Often it is just a simple issue of remembering the scenes but not the exact words, for instance the actual line from the Empire Strikes Back is “No, I am your father.” However, there are a few instances that a real head scratcher. For instance, one of the supposed most well-known quotes from the movie Casablanca is “Play it again Sam.” That line is not anywhere in the movie, the closest is a character saying “Play it once Sam, for old times’ sake.”, which is not even that close. It makes sense how this happens so frequently, we do not remember the exact words so our memories end up filling in the missing details in a way that is close enough. In these well-known quotes that tend to be remembered incorrectly it just happens that enough people have misremembered it in the same way that the wrong quote becomes the better known quote.
I would not fault you if you thought something similar was happening with this morning’s scripture. Because this morning’s scripture might sound familiar to us. One of Jesus’ best known teachings are the “beatitudes” a series of “blessed are” statements. This morning scripture sounds very similar, but also may not sound quite right. Unlike misremembered movie quotes, that is not quite what is happening here. It turns out in the gospels there are two versions of the beatitudes. The more familiar version is found in the gospel of Matthew, as opposed to this version from Luke. There are some minor but fairly important differences. For instance the first statement found in Matthew is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, where Luke records “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The statements of blessing in Matthew tend to be spiritualized whereas the statements in Luke tend to be focused on the physical conditions of the people Jesus is speaking to. This morning’s scripture from Luke also contains statements of woe which Matthew does not have. So given those differences it is not surprise that the Matthew blessing statements are the more popular and more well-known ones. They tend to feel a lot more safe and comfortable. This morning’s scripture really presses against some of the culture messages we are inundated with. This morning’s scripture can cause us to question our assumptions about what it means to be blessed, but this morning’s scripture can point us to how we can more authentically be a disciple of Jesus.
Blessed is a tricky word to define. Like a lot of abstract concepts, it is an idea we feel like we have an understanding of but it is an idea we struggle to fully articulate. The opposite of being blessed is being cursed, and that is a state we generally want to avoid. So often we usually hear people claim they feel blessed when the circumstances of life work out in a way to give feelings of happiness or peace. We often reduce the idea of being blessed to an attitude of focusing on the positive rather than the negative. While focusing on the good in our lives instead of dwelling on the hardship can do wonders for our general outlook, it is kind of hard to square that understanding of being blessed with what we find in the bible, especially in this morning’s scripture. Because poverty, hunger, sorrow, and being hated are objectively not great places to find oneself. Yet, those are the very qualities that are lifted up in this scripture, which really brings about the question what does it mean to be blessed?
We find the concept of being blessed throughout the bible. The way blessing and being blessed are described are varied with a lot of depth throughout the bible, but a common trend does emerge. Being blessed means to have God’s attention. The blessed in the bible are the people that God has a special care for. To be blessed means that God has a specific concern for you. Blessings, which are often positive in the bible, are the physical results that come from being blessed. Often we count our blessings and consider the positive in our life to be an indication that we are blessed, but it often works the opposite in the Bible. Being blessed does not mean comfort or an overabundance of blessings. Being blessed means that God has a special care for you. In that light, this morning’s scripture begins to make more sense.
When Jesus says blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, and blessed are you who weep, that is exactly what he is saying. This is not to say that Jesus is glorifying or idealizing poverty, but rather Jesus is reinforcing a theme found throughout scripture. Consistently throughout scripture God is on the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the marginalized. In the Old Testament God is the protector, defender, and ultimate advocate for the poor. The poor, the hungry, the oppressed are blessed because God’s favor and protection is upon them. This is a reality in the kingdom of God. In their book Deep Justice in a Broken World Chap Clark and Kara Powell put it this way, “Any biblically rooted understanding of the kingdom of God cannot be separated from God’s commitment to uphold justice by providing for the needy . . . God who reigns over all of creation looks upon the brokenness of his children, and in his mercy takes special favor of behalf of those most affected by humanity’s sin and rebellion.” Those who have been systematically impacted and hurt by the broken and fallen state of the world are the ones God has special care for, and that is why they are blessed.
Even if a fuller understanding of a biblical notion of blessed, this morning’s scripture can still be difficult for us because of the statements of woe. These statements of woe can feel problematic to us because they seem to almost glorify suffering. I do think the beginning of verse 20 is key to understanding this morning’s scripture. It states, “Looking at his disciples, he said . . .” This morning statements of blessing and woe were not a general teachings but were directed to his twelve closest disciples. I do think that context is important to understanding this scripture.
This morning’s scripture takes place fairly early on in the ministry of Jesus. The scripture that immediately precedes this mornings is when Jesus had finalized picking the twelve, and then this morning’s scripture begins with a great number of people gathering. It specifies the areas people came from, and that is to say any place that was a few days journey away showed up. I imagine what this had to be like for the 12 disciples. They had just been honored by Jesus to be chosen as one of his closest followers. Now a large crowd from all over has assembled, they spent the day watching Jesus do miracle after miracle. I imagine those twelve men had to be overflowing with excitement. They had to feel like they were in on the ground level of something that was going to be big. They saw how huge the crowd was, and they might have thought this was only the beginning. Perhaps they saw fame in Jesus’ future which also meant fame in their future. Just like today they would have known that fame leads to influence and power and wealth. I have to wonder if any of the disciples that day felt like they had hit the jackpot, they had hitched their wagon to the right star, and they were on their way to having it made.
If any of the disciples felt that way, then when Jesus looked at his disciples and delivered the statements of blessings and woe, it would have been a dose of reality that re-grounded them in what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus starts by reminding them who God is for and concerned about, which means the people that Jesus is concerned for. Jesus then reminds them that if their focus is on wealth, comfort, and reputation then their focus is on temporary earthly things and not on heavenly things. If our focus in on ourselves and on what we can get, then our focus is not on God. It also means that our focus is not where God is focused.
Jesus’ message in this morning’s scripture was meant not for the multitudes, but it was meant for his closest followers. If you consider yourself a disciple or if you consider Jesus to be your Lord and Savior that means the truth of this scripture is that it was intended for you to hear. This means the first aspect of this scripture, that God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, is for us to hear. It is for us to hear because if that is the side that God is on, it means that it is the side we are supposed to be on. If God’s focus is on those who are the most without and the most in need, then that is where our focus should be. If God is the protector and defender of the poor and marginalized, then it means those are the people we should be seeking to help and shelter as well. The poor, the hungry, the hurt, the hated are the people this morning’s scripture defines as blessed because God is on their side. Perhaps as the people of God, it is our job to be the blessings for those who are so blessed. As the hand and feet of Jesus, the son of God who is fully God, we should have compassion for those that God cares about and seek to meet their needs.
In the same way the dose reality the woes hit the original disciples with should also re-center us on what it means to follow Jesus. These woes are the inverse of the four blessed are you statements. They point us to where are focus in life should not be. We cannot be sharing the love of God and being a living example of Christian witness if our focus is on the things that Jesus pronounced woe upon. If our focus is on accumulating more and more wealth then we are not going to be very apt to generously provide for others the way that God generally provides for us. In the same way if all of our time, energy and effort goes to make ourselves comfortable and create an environment where we never weep, then we cannot see the great hurts in the world. If we do not see the hurts then we cannot join God in trying to tend to those hurts. There is a lot of injustice and pain in the world, and if the magnitude never brings us to tears then it’s because we are intentionally ignoring it. For instance, UNICEF estimates 21 children die a minute from preventable causes. In the past half hour that is over 600 babies under the age of five who died and did not have to. That SHOULD cause us to weep. If our focus is on acquiring wealth, getting the finest food in life, and ensuring we are always happy and comfortable then our focus cannot be on God or the people God wants us to focus on.
This morning’s scripture can be uncomfortable because it challenges us to pursue compassionate actions instead of personal comfort. This scripture reminds us that the way of Jesus is to focus less on ourselves and more on others. So May we realize that being blessed is not about what we have but by how we can be a blessing to others. May we have compassion and care for the people that God has special care for. May we love what God loves and be saddened by what saddens God. May we have generosity for the poor, compassion for the hungry, and weep for those who weep, because blessed are those who do that for theirs is the kingdom of God.