Blessings and Woes
H O M I L Y G R I T S 6 - C
by Grant Gallup
February 11, 2007
Jeremiah 17:5-10 Curse the shrub/bless the tree
Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit
I Corinthians 15:12-20 Resurrection has come through a human being
Luke 6:17-26 The cost and cost effectiveness of discipleship
In Luke, Jesus "levels" with us--he comes down from the mountain top of visions and ecstasies, of mysticism and mystery, and talks into our ears and to our experience, not over the tops of our heads into our idealism.
Luke says Jesus comes down from heaven to a level place with us.
This is not his tryst with a few windy souls, in the misty mount of transfiguration, but Jesus' way with a crowd, a multitude, the masses, a sweaty "muchedumbre". Whenever I was able in years of pulpit pounding (well, lectern leaning, really) to escape and sit in a pew to listen to one of the great preachers of our time I always wanted to wait my turn afterwards at the narthex door to touch the power, to grasp the hand of the Chrysostom or Theresa; it was like getting a gold star on my Sunday school attendance chart, like a hit of St. John's Wort. "All in the crowd tried to touch him," says Luke of Jesus' preaching, for "power came out from him and healed them all." I knew I would feel taller and wiser after such a feel of such a hand in mine. I became "conscientizado" after listening with the inner ear to such a sacrament of preaching, quaffing such a cup.
Preaching IS listed as one of the sacraments in the Polish National Catholic Church. Anglicans would choose Coronation, I suppose, for the third Bible sacrament, after Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. We have a College of Preachers, but attendance is not required. But preaching can crown our faith with understnding, and give us all a diadem of sacramentum: voices, breath, tongues, lips, ears, and eyes are its vehicles, power and healing its graces.
Children love to memorize the Beatitudes, and in the Sunday school I went to, we did indeed get tinsel stars as well for such works of supererogation. But no one ever asked me to memorize the Woes. They were never printed up on illuminated holy cards to mark your place in the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer. Luke does not spiritualize his earthy gospel and does not talk symbolically about attitudinal poverty or hunger for an improved value system. Jesus looked at his church -- his own disciples -- as I can indeed look at some of my listeners in Managua on Domingo mornings and accurately say to them--a gaggle of naufragos and unemployed, with an admixture of callow youth -- as he did: "Blessed are you poor people -- yours is the reign of God in our time. Blessed are you who came here hungry this morning -- I'll see that you have a good meal after mass. I'm talking soup, cheese, bread, rice and beans. Blessed are you who came here with some tears today -- we're going to have some laughs. I'm talking jokes and funny stories! Futhermore, blessed are you excluded ones--crones, gay people, lame folks, blind and deaf, freaks, different -- when they expel you from the church and make fun of you -- be glad and be gay and break-dance and hop around for joy; they made fun of my prophets, too." But then Jesus looks at the rich -- the privileged -- and says, "Watch out you rich folks -- you've got all the goodies you're going to get. Watch out you who are laughing so hard on top of the heap now, ruling the roost, for you are going to do some major weeping and mourning. Woe to you when you're highly esteemed for your fakery, for esteem is what they always gave to frauds."
The commentators say that Luke's Short List of the Favored and his Short List of the Foul are closer to their original form, four of each, than is Matthew's list. Matthew has had access to an interpreters' Bible, some spiritualizing interlinear commentary like Mother Eddy's Key to the Scriptures, which can lock up the Oracles even tighter away from the real needs of a real world. Matthew is often described as an "ecclesiastical gospel", a churchy look at Jesus' teaching. We used to refer to gospel reassurances at the Absolution of Sins in the old Prayer Books as "The Comfortable Words", and the Beatitudes in Matthew are often read that way, as soothing and mollifying to the Church Recumbent. There are caramelos, paletas and sorbetes here for everybody. We can all find a way to fit into them we are after all sometimes "poor in spirit" especially after earthquakes, fires, and floods; and I've joined the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
Matthew's gospel dilutes the poverty and hunger so they could apply to a posh suburban country club buffet with reduced supplies of Beluga caviar. But not Luke -- his Jesus is talking to his listeners in both cases -- he does not speak of the Woeful Rich as if they were absent, or to the laughing crowds as if somewhere else, the Church of the Good Reputation as in another venue out on the North Shore. You who are poor, You who are rich -- you know who you are. You're all down front here in the pews, on the same level, in this Levelling gospel. " Blessings and Woes! to you this morning." They were not intended to be comfortable words. "Have a nice day!", someone said cheerily after service one day to Mother Anne Garrison, a tamed turbulence ordained a priest in her 70's: "Thank you, but I have other plans," she replied when someone wished her a nice day.

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"Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce you, on account of your humanity. . . rejoice!". This last of Luke's blessings is also last in Matthew's longer list of eight. Luke tells us who it is that is happy now, and Matthew tells us how to get that way. His are "be-attitudes", the dispositions of character required of the saint. Luke talks about eventualities --Galilea calls them "special, eschatalogical, paschal values," the beatitude of the cross. Not often celebrated as blessed, these persecutions! My dear friend Dorothy Granada here in Nicaragua, was once houounded into months of hiding by a dictatorial president here, who tried to expel her for having done as a volunteer the witness and work among the sick poor that the government itself has failed to do. The beatitude of cheerful voluntary witness and ministry to the sick poor shamed the Woe of government failure. For this she is hounded and harried. The Supreme Court of Nicaragua finally knocked down the government's order to expel her, Jesus the artisan of our liberation gives each of us his disciples not a cash box of venture capital, but a tool chest of spiritual gifts. They will make us rich towards God, they will make us blessed, blissful, happy. Annie Lamott writes in "Travelling Mercies" that when she was a kid "I always imagined that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of obedience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools--friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty--and said, 'Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.' And mostly, against all odds, they're enough." The poor get these gifts in equal measure with the rich, most of them, and some of them the filthy rich don't get at all, like conscience and honesty. The richer you are, the less of them you'll have, though you may have fair weather friends and the best prayers that money can buy.
Segundo Galilea, the Chilean liberation theologian with whom I read in the 80's, says that the first three Lucan beatitudes are all addressed to the same persons: the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. These are not separate pick & choose categories into which we might slip and slide ourselves and our friends,or various categories of social workers, by sleight-of-hand or canonical dispensation. If you are poor, you are hungry, and if you are hungry, you have something each night to cry about -- "my tears have been my food," cries the thirsty soul. (Ps.42). Psalm 80: "You have fed your people with the bread of tears, you have given them bowls of tears to drink." "My enemies revile me all day long, and those who scoff at me have taken an oath against me. I have eaten ashes for bread, and mingled my drink with weeping." (Ps. 102.) "Give us each day our daily bread" is answered a tortilla at a time in the Two Thirds World, with a little salt for savor. Spiritualize that!
All the beatitudes in both the lists show brilliantly the kingdom of God in a kaleidescope of exultation, in a bouquet of different images and signs: comfort, satisfaction, laughter, mercy, the beatific vision, enlightenment, inheritance, adoption, everlasting reward. But Galilea writes that Luke's blessing is simply to say this, "that the Kingdom of God is theirs means concretely that the gospel, the Christian message, and hence the church, belongs to them," the poor-hungry-weeping. Any postponement to somewhere "in heaven" voids them and omits them from the evangel, from honest preaching and authentic ministry. To preach pie in the sky or even piety on earth is an insult to the poor, who need bread now for today's only meal. (Jesus didn't multiply the pieties or perform a miraculous draught of pocket testaments.)
The Christian community early on discovered that Jesus IS the Evangel precisely and only because Jesus lives his gospel among us, and always has. The Chalcedonian formula is the last evidence of the defeated heretical attempt to isolate Jesus from the project of God in history. A diluted gospel will continue to present a watered down Jesus, but it cannot slake the thirst of humankind. We cannot isolate his teachings and separate them from him, as with the authors of proverbs and epigrams, and still have good news. When you move that, you move to the astrology column. Jesus evangelizes by continuing to live in his Risen Life the Beatitudes of poverty, hunger, and sorrow in solidarity with those for whom they are not an option. And he still heals primarily pariahs, people rejected because of their crime of illness, qeers kicked out by their " disability." But he summons us all to his liberation, to societal liberation, to interior liberation, so that even 'though a privileged place is given to the poor, we too must join them in metanoia, in an "About, Face!" and an enlistment to his allegiance. Any ministry by religious organizations or religious people to the church of the poor--the real church--must work to make these hopes of Jesus come true in our lifetime, in our global village. It isn't only Christians who have enlisted in this project of Jesus (and he himself recognized that in Matthew 25) for the God of Jesus is the God of universal hope.