Of Blessings and Warnings
(Luke chapter 6, verses 17-26)
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
There are a lot of afflicted, hurting and just plain exhausted people in the world today. People whose lives are filled with sadness, who are poverty-stricken, as well as the tremendous number of people who survived COVID-19 (or not). The world we live in today is one filled with war, destruction and killing. It is a world full of people who are viewed by an elite few as being nothing more than commodities at best, which is financial slavery, and human chattel at worst – mere traffickers or brokers who will sell another human being for the right price. We live in a world where over 50,000 children starve to death each day. The world is a really, really ugly place. A famous musician named Louie Armstrong, who died back in the 1980's as best as I can recall, once recorded a fondly-remembered song back in the 1950's that you can still hear occasionally on the 'easy listening' and jazz radio stations. The lyrics to the first verse were, “I see seas of blue, red roses too, God made it all for me and you, and I think to myself 'what a wonderful world'”. Lately I have come to the sad conclusion that the world Louie Armstrong sang about back then no longer exists.
But it is good to know that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has already addressed both sides of this issue. To find out what He said, let's go to Luke's gospel chapter six, starting at verse 17, and I quote, “He went down with them and stood in a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to heal their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples he said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.'” (Luke 6: 17-26)
To get the right context for this event, Jesus had just previously called the Twelve disciples, and this was one of his first public speeches since then. As you can see from the text, large crowds gathered whenever and wherever Jesus spoke, so let's consider the power of that statement. Remember, this was 2,000 years ago. There was no media as we know it today, no internet, radio, television, or printing press. Needless to say, since there was no advertising back then, I find it all the more remarkable that Jesus was able to attract crowds that were interspersed with people from what must have been at least 100 miles away. This goes to show you the kind of awesome drawing power that real truth possesses.
“Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” Besides being evidently the greatest orator the world has ever known, Jesus put action behind his words. He didn't just stand up there and talk, he actually healed people. Jesus didn't only cure the physically sick, he brought Spiritual and mental or psychological healing as well. There was unimaginable power in Jesus' touch. Being “troubled by evil spirits” (the word 'evil' in the original Hebrew within this context is 'unclean') is just another way of describing mental illnesses such as clinical depression.
But look at what Jesus said next; “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” There are an awful lot of people in the world today – far too many in my opinion – who are desperately poor to the point that they are living on less than two dollars a day. One fourth of all the homeless people in the US are children. As a famous actor once said, ‘if another country was doing this to America’s kids, we’d be at war’. Assembly line workers in mainland China – you know, the multitudes that replaced their American counterparts whose jobs were outsourced overseas – average an incredibly stingy 26 cents an hour. So by the world's standards, the poor are all cursed all over this planet. Yet by God's standards, they are blessed.
Does this mean God wants us all to be poor? No, not at all! It's just that Jesus defines wealth differently than we do. True wealth is an abundance of peace, first and foremost. True wealth means family and friendship. True wealth means having a livelihood, whether it is having job or a trade, or owning a small business – even a tiny little one-person enterprise. Never mind how much money you make, or how big your house is, or what kind of vehicle you drive, your investment portfolio’s or the clothes you wear. All that is just icing on the cake. If all we ever ate was the icing, we'd all turn into diabetics.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” Nobody knows exactly how many people die of starvation each day, but the numbers are in the tens of thousands – daily! Meanwhile, roughly one fourth of the food that is grown in the US each year gets thrown away, from the farm to the restaurant to the dinner table. My dear readers, we as a civilization must do a whole lot better than this. Does anybody seriously think that God is happy about this? No, He is outraged! We throw away food on one side of the world, while simultaneously starving men, women and children to death over on the other side.
How much longer is humankind going to tolerate this? For as long as war still exists, that's how long. So the first step to ending poverty and hunger is to stop all the fighting. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Blessed are you in God's sight who have lost loved ones tragically to the pandemic, who are homeless because they can't find work, or who are too sick to work. You may be crying about it now, but you'll laugh about it one day in heaven because it will all seem so trivial. Blessed are you who are depressed to the point of being suicidal, because you are now in a perfect position to receive Christ. That’s because when one loses all hope, Jesus becomes the only hope and the only thing we need.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.” This verse right here is much of the scriptural basis for Christian martyrdom, but that's not all. This verse is for all the people who never really fit in, for the social outcast, for those who have been slandered and gossiped about to the point of ruining careers and marriages, for those who always got picked last at school sports, and especially for those who hate you simply because you are a Christian. Congratulations, God loves those whom the world hates no matter what the reason. From a Spiritual standpoint, being hated, rejected, falsely accused and persecuted for religious, economic, racial or ethnic reasons is like winning a Spiritual lottery as far as God is concerned. Your reward will be great because the prophets and followers who came before you were treated the same way by the others’ ancestors.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” People who care about nothing but wealth, riches and material goods care only for themselves. To put it bluntly, they are all going to hell. If there is anyone reading this who doubts that, feel free to try and prove me wrong, but don't be surprised if you get way more than you bargained for. But those who place others ahead of themselves in importance in this life will be well rewarded, you can all be sure about that. “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” All the kings, queens, noblemen, governors, presidents, and particularly the dictators who kept themselves and their inner circles very well fed while the rest of their countrymen starved, a day is coming very soon when the tables will be turned against them.
The wealthy western nations, who throw away 25% of the food they produce while over 2 billion are going hungry in third world countries, will be the ones judged most severely. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” All the rich elites, the top 1% who control the top 99% of the wealth throughout the world, are all feeling quite smug and secure as I write this. They laugh at homeless people, they attack the poor as if they were playing a contact sport, and they are proud of how greedy they are. But upon Christ's imminent return, their joy and contentment will turn into horror when they see their ultimate fate for the fist time.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” Who are the false prophets of today? They're all over the place, in the sports stadiums, on the movie screen, on social media, and in the pulpit. They're in our colleges and universities, on TV, on those porn movies so many are addicted to, and in our advertising. False prophets are ubiquitous, just as they always have been. It's just that, since we're living in the Last Days, they are now more numerous than ever before. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 24 and verse one, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and say, 'I am he', and will deceive many”. That's exactly the situation we are faced with today, with Islam being the greatest deception of them all. As such, and since the Quran condones the murder of Christians, I regard Islam as the greatest potential threat to the entire western world. So there we have it – blessings from Jesus, followed by stark warnings to those whose only pursuits are materialism, power and wealth. It's time to get our houses in order for Jesus, whether you belong to a church or not. We are all running out of time.