I am always reluctant to try to get two of our weekly lessons to work together but the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson are once again calling out to me to try it again. Both these lessons have the form of blessings and curses. Jeremiah says, “A curse on the man who puts is trust in man (vs. 5),” and “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord (vs. 7). Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God (6:20), and “Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now (6:24).” In the prophet the blessing and curse is followed by a straightforward statement about the devious human heart and the warning that God knows that devious heart and will judge it. In the Gospel blessings and curses are also matched in pairs and in the same structural place as the straightforward statement in the prophet, the Gospel has the statement to the effect that one is blessed when people hate and abuse and drive you out because they have always done that to the those who speak truth. Abuse and expulsion are signs that one is speaking the word of Christ who was likewise abused and expelled.
The only reason to take two lessons and use them together is because I think that they shed light on each other. I read these together because the deviousness and perversity of our human wills or failed minds is most evident in that way that we resist acknowledging the truth. We really don’t want to know the will and purpose of God because then we would feel compelled to follow it. If we remain ignorant we can simply stay as we are embracing all kinds of culturally imposed prejudices. Jeremiah warns us that our wills are devious and perverse, and Jesus cites the prime instance of this deviousness, namely, our unwillingness to hear the will and word of God as it comes through the true prophets. We would rather hear from false prophets, who tell us that God is pleased with us, on our side and that he is ready to prosper our schemes and endorse our ambitions.
The message is that we must pay attention to God no matter how unwelcome and uncomfortable the message.
Let us now turn to the most uncomfortable message of all for us who are relatively well off. “Blessed are the poor, and woe to the rich!” I hope we can hear that without immediately trying to interpret it deviously. Luke takes it seriously and again hits this same theme in chapter 12 where he writes to whom much is given much is expected.
In both Jeremiah and Luke we have this same theme. Jeremiah says that the one who puts his trust in man is cursed, and the one who puts his trust in God is blessed. Luke says that the rich are cursed because they put their confidence in their riches and take their identity and satisfaction from their status in this world. We all get our identity from somewhere and we must be very careful to only allow ourselves to receive our identity from the Holy Spirit and not the world.
Jeremiah and Luke remind us that our real life only comes from God. That is the sense of the saying of Jesus that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle from (Mark 10:25). For that reason the poor are especially blessed because they have that much less incentive to glory in the wrong things. This is what Jeremiah means when he says, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man (17:5)” and “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord (17:7).”
Nevertheless, it is also possible that riches in this world need not lead one astray but can be a way to operate in what is real, the Kingdom of God. I do not think that the beatitude on the poor and the curse on the rich are simply declarations of final judgment. They are rather warnings that set forth two outcomes in order to warn us and encourage us to behave differently.
It stands to reason that our resources give us an opportunity to serve Christ in this world. We can use what has been given to us to serve or we can give into the temptation to live our lives in triviality and personal amusement.
Living as part of the poor in spirit can mean to live in the light of the divine love and eternal life. What each of us has and is gives us an immense opportunity to cooperate with God in the work of redemption in this world. Our resources are a trust from God, a responsibility and an opportunity, a call to be stewards of the power that it brings.
As we end this sermon we find ourselves in the place where we usually find ourselves at the end of these sermons, facing our own responsibility for what we have been entrusted with. We must not be devious but rather clear and transparent to God and to ourselves, and we must not fear to speak the truth without resorting to flattery, manipulation or deceit. There is in this life with God both a blessing and curse a blessing if we get it right, curse if we deliberately and perversely insist on getting it all wrong.
Luke is presenting to us the ethics that Jesus’ new community will have to adopt. It warns us that we will have to work to do away with the cultural structures that prevent God’s will from defining life in the world. Today’s lesson is about how to live in this world.
1. In what ways are blessings and curses related to each other?
2. What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
3. What does it mean to share our resources?