Blessing and Woe
17 February 2019 – Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
In Luke there is extraordinary affirmation and concern for the real poor. Jesus’ first two beatitudes and corresponding woes reinforce this emphasis since they speak first of the poor and then of the hungry while the corresponding woes speak to the rich and the satiated.
What Jesus foretells is that conditions will be reversed. Luke’s Jesus then declares that those who weep are blessed and will laugh in the future and contrasts these to those who presently laugh who will come to weep. Finally Luke’ Jesus declares blessed those who suffer in any way because of the Son of Man and foretells woe to those who are presently praised by society. These are compared to the prophets who were persecuted in ancient Israel while the false prophets enjoyed the people’s favor.
This gospel is a subtle call to those who claim to follow Jesus to foster the material well being of all as part of one’s commitment to Christ. While Jesus’ words surely recognize that complete fulfillment awaits the full in-breaking of the kingdom, Christians are called to realize the kingdom by assistance to the marginalize. They also realize that often when they are scorned by the larger society for their Christian witness, they are truly among those God approves. In some ways this final beatitude and corresponding woe can pose a challenge within the Christian family because of theological and hermeneutical differences. –– Regina Boisclair
This selection together with. . . Luke’s beatitudes juxtapose blessings and woes. . . contrasting those who trust in God (vv 7–8) and those who trust only in humans (vv 5–6). It contrasts fickle human hearts, which may be deceptive and perverse, with God, who tests hearts and minds and gives to all the fruit of their acts. The images of this passage contrast the desert to the oasis. They are grounded are grounded in the everyday geographical realities of ancient Israel. The selection of contrasting blessings and woes corresponds to Jesus’ declaration of four beatitudes with four corresponding woes. –– Regina Boisclair
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
The second readings during the Sundays of Epiphany and Pentecost follow a sequence of semi-continuous passages from epistles that are not chosen to correspond to the other passages with which they are matched. There are however many instances in which there is a connection. . . . In this passage. . . we find a contrast between those who reject the belief in the resurrection of the dead and the foundational teaching of Christian faith.
Paul’s argument is circular. If one claims that there is no resurrection, then the claim that Christ was raised was false and if that is false than faith in Christ is without foundation, those who believe are deluded and still in sin, those who died have perished, and those who hope for the impossible are to be pitied. This contrast between belief and denial of the resurrection of the dead resonates with Jesus’ contrasts between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. –– Regina Boisclair
Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, teaches at Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.
Homily Service 40, no. 3 (2007): 15-25.