Part of my work means that I am always thinking about audiences and messages: who is listening to what, what might they be hearing, and how might they respond? It’s a helpful approach when we come across Jesus at work teaching and healing. In today’s readings from Luke there are two audiences. Firstly, there is the great multitude who are going out to wherever Jesus is to be found, longing for life to change. Over and over again throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ message means lives are being transformed through healing and peace. They want to hear what he has to say so that life will be different.
But there is a second audience, that Luke describes as a ‘great crowd of disciples’. It’s easy to think that now Jesus is talking to just a small group of faithful followers, and this reminds us that there were many whose stories we will never know who were on the journey with him. The words of teaching in this passage are for them – and for us, people who are in the crowd of disciples.
The words of blessing are a relief – those who are literally poor or hungry or unhappy can hold on to the promise of God. Those who are being ridiculed as followers of Jesus can find courage and reassurance. You can almost imagine them nodding in agreement. Many of us need to hear those words of blessing, as we feel both physically and spiritually empty or sad. We need God’s healing and wholeness in every part of our lives.
But then there are the ‘woes’, which we might have assumed were for those opposed to Jesus, rather than the great crowd of disciples. But words of woe and blessing are about whether we are living God’s way or not. For those learning and living as disciples it is about discovering how to live in the fulness of blessing, and turn away from the things that are not of God. Some of those listening must have become uncomfortable as Jesus challenged their complacency.
As we prepare for the journey of Lent in just over two weeks, as disciples we will also make time to reflect on our lives, and ask the Holy Spirit to comfort where we need comfort and to challenge where we need challenging.
Revd. Canon Dr Sandra Millar