Jeremiah 17:5-10– Jeremiah’s Beatitudes. Blessings and woes (curses)
Psalm 1– Happy is the one who does not walk in the way of the wicked (WWW), stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20– How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If so, then Christ was not raised, your faith is in vain, and those who died have perished.
Luke 6:17-26– Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.
February 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4C (Jeremiah’s call. Jesus in his hometown: No prophet is without honor, except in his own country.)
February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5C (Isaiah’s call. Jesus teaches from a boat. The great catch.)
February 17, 2019 – Epiphany 6C (Jeremiah’s blessings and woes. Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.)
February 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7C (Joseph and his brothers. Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.)
March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration
March 6, 2019 – Ash Wednesday
Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
Professor Ralph Klein’s comments are most helpful for this text:
- The poem is very similar to Psalm 1, which is the Psalm assigned for this day. Verses 5-6 describe those who trust in mere mortals (they are the wicked) and compare them to a shrub in the desert. These people may just as well be a juniper in the Arabah, which will fall under a curse in bad times because it cannot wait for the rains to come (Lundbom in the Anchor Bible).
- Contrasted with them, in vv 7-8 are those who trust in Yahweh. These righteous are compared to a tree transplanted by an abundant source of water.
- Verse 9 ascribes devious motivations to the human heart–it is desperately sick. Jeremiah is generalizing about every heart, including his own.
- Verse 10 asserts that Yahweh tests the mind and the heart and applies appropriate rewards and punishments to the righteous and wicked respectively.
- The Gospel, Luke 6:17-26, pronounces great reversals. The poor, hungry, and sorrowful will receive good news while the rich, the full, and the happy will find their good times turned into bad. There is a healthy tension between these two passages. The passage from Jeremiah urges people of faith to live ethically; the Gospel warns against making a one-to-one equation between prosperity and piety. People could misuse the OT lesson to support self-righteousness; people could misuse the NT lesson to advocate cheap grace. The truth lies in the tension between the two passages.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
As I said last week, the epistle readings in Epiphany 5C, 6C and 7C (February 10, 17 and 24), are Paul’s extended argument for the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15.
The first thing I notice as I slowly read this text is the number of “If… thens.”
- If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, then how can you say, no resurrection?
- If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
- If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
- If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
- If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
- If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied.
Ben Witherington III, in his book Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, calls 1 Corinthians 15 “Argument VIII,” and Paul’s at his rhetorical, argumentative best.
Mack, M. Bunker, and D. Watson call Paul’s arguments micro-rhetoric, exhibiting all the elements of a speech. One can hear the if-thens as an oratory/preaching device for a crowd.
Witherington outlines Paul’s classic Greek rhetoric as follows:
- exordium in vv. If.,
- narratio in vv. 3-11,
- propositio in vv. 12-19,
- thesis, stated in short form in v. 20,
- probatio in vv. 21-50, using paradigms, examples, analogies, and closing with a scriptural analogy,
- conclusion in vv. 51-58,
- recapitulation, a citation of Scripture for a final appeal (vv. 54f.),
- peroratio in the form of an exhortation to act on the basis of all that has just been said (v. 58).
So, our text represents the propositio, that is the summary of the matter, and the thesis, the short statement of the point. Witherington says Paul’s point is today’s final verse (20):
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
The Greek listeners would undoubtably understood Paul to mean resurrected corpses. Paul seeks to correct this misunderstanding. He also is correcting the Corinthian Christians, who spiritualized the resurrection as people do today.
Witherington addresses those not “in Christ:”
Paul does not discuss the fate of those outside Christ here. It is possible to read various ideas into his silence. It could be that he saw the nonbeliever’s resurrection as separate from the Christian resurrection, but we cannot be sure. His point is to focus on what will happen to Christians, so the analogy is not perfect. There is a corporate solidarity in death and in new life in each case, but not all will be in Christ, and so not all will be affected by him in the way that all are affected by Adam.
I would argue, however, that because Paul never mentions “hell” in the undisputed epistles, that Paul assumes those not in Christ perish, as he says Christians would, if Christ was not raised:
If Christ has not been raised… then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
As I said last week, Paul’s understanding of resurrection is widely misunderstood today. If you preach this text, you might go back and read what I wrote. (Epiphany 5C – February 10) I won’t repeat it here. I also recommend James Tabor’s explanation in Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
This week we get verses 17-26 of the Sermon on the Plain: Four blessings and four woes. Next week we get versus 27-38. Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia), outlines the three distinct sections Sermon on the Plain as follows:
Each section has a clear marker separating it from the others:
- “Then after making careful eye contact with his disciples, he turned and said” (6:20a);
- “to you who are listening I say” (6:27a); and
- “Then he told them an illustration” (6:39a).
The Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) has much of the same content as the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, other places in Matthew, and Q, however Luke definitely makes his own mark on the text. From Parsons:
Prior to our reading Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. He met with his disciples. In Luke there are not twelve disciples. There are many more. Jesus gathers his many disciples, and chooses twelve of them to be apostles (Luke 6:13). Jesus comes to a level place on the slope and stands with them. Jesus is speaking to the apostles, and the disciples. The crowd listens in.
David Lyle Jeffrey (Luke, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) points out that this Sermon on the Plain does not appear in Mark. It’s counterpart in Matthew is much longer (Matthew chapters 5-7). Luke’s version in this Sunday’s gospel reading is terse by comparison.
There are four beatitudes. (Matthew has eight.) Luke adds woes that Matthew doesn’t have. This certainly changes the feel of Luke’s version. The four beatitudes in 6:20–23 (poor, hungry, mourning, hated) are countered by four woes in 6:24–26 (rich, full, laughing, esteemed). Luke’s beatitudes do not have the alliteration of Matthew’s Greek. (Matthew uses a lot of words that begin with “p.”) Augustine considered these two sermons, preached on different occasions, rather than one reported differently.
The Psalms begin with a beatitude: “Blessed are they who walk not in the counsel of the wicked…” (Psalm 1:1) This is the appointed psalm of the day.
Parsons says the poor are “victims of social and economic oppression.” The kingdom is theirs. Communities of wealth and privilege tend to downplay the import of this passage. Keep in mind Jesus has already told us that the Spirit has anointed him to preach good news to the poor.
The hungry will be filled, an obvious reference to the eschatological banquet.
The weeping will laugh. In Matthew 5 and Isaiah 61, the weeping are “comforted.” Parsons points out Luke borrows weeping into laughter from Psalm 126:1–6 and Ecclesiastes 3:4. For everything there is a season… a time to weep, and a time to laugh.
Fourth and finally, blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. Rejoice and leap for joy. This is what they did to the prophets. You must be on the right track.
Some point out that Jesus experienced all these things himself.
The woes correspond to the beatitudes. One might translate this translate this, “Beware.” Beware you who are rich, filled and gluttonous, laughing and buried in flattery.
I am mindful of Amos’ stern warning in Amos chapter 6:
6:1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samar′ia,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel come!
6:4 “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory,
and stretch themselves upon their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the midst of the stall;
6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music;
6:6 who drink wine in bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
6:7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.”
The good news for the poor is pretty clear here. The good news for the rich is they get to be a part of the sharing. But the good news comes with a warning about the great reversal that will take place in the kingdom. Luke spells this out in chapter 16 with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. If those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated are blessed, and if you aren’t any of those things, go find someone who is.
It is sometimes difficult to preach a graceful, non-legalistic sermon because of the woes. The sermon doesn’t end here, though. Jesus goes on to talk about being perfected in love. We will read the next section next week. The preacher might work ahead to know “the rest of the story.” Consider a two-part sermon that leaves some questions hanging for next week. Blessings and woes… How then should we live? Stay tuned…