I love the beatitudes.  But like most, I like Matthew’s much better than Luke’s.  Maybe that’s because Luke shares both blessings and curses, and I stand in the place of those cursed, not those blessed.  Like the people of Israel when they entered the promised land, Luke stands on Mt. Gerizim to bless, and Mr. Ebal to curse, for both are appropriate.

We usually connect blessing with wealth, power, family, comfort, and happiness.  We connect curses with poverty, tears, pain, suffering, and mockery.  And this fits what we saw on the two mountains of Gerizim and Ebal.  From Gerizim, the blessings were all of these things, and from Ebal, the curses were all of these as well.  And as is expected, the blessings were for those who obeyed God’s Law and the curses were for those who didn’t.  So how do we interpret Luke’s rendition of beatitudes and woes in light of this?

Jesus blesses not the wealthy and powerful, and not the obedient.  No, Jesus’ blessings are for the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, and the persecuted.  There is no direct mention of the obedience of the people, and from what we read of His disciples, this was seldom the case.  Yet traditionally, blessings come to the obedient, so perhaps we can assume that.  On the other side, Jesus’ woes come to the rich, comfortable, full, laughing, and lauded.  While one would assume that these are the people blessed by God, they are in fact those cursed with woes.

Should we assume that obedience to Jesus will lead to such blessings?  Will truly following Jesus lead to poverty and weeping?  And is wealth and comfort a marker of His curse?  Have we completely flipped the scale here?  That does seem to be Jesus’ way, teachings, and lifestyle.  And if so, then woe to us indeed.

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What do we do when the bible doesn’t fit our expectations?  When people are praised for killing their enemies?  When God turns His back on His people even when they cry out for help?  Or when God acts against His chosen people let alone against anyone?

What about when someone is healed by the faith of their friends?  Or Jesus sets the example of eating with the very people we tell our kids to avoid?  What do we do when the bible doesn’t fit our expectations?

I wrestle with this a lot in my field of study.  The bible isn’t always consistent, it doesn’t always makes sense, and sometimes it makes us wonder.  But usually, the problem we have with it is not a problem with God but with our own expectations.

The book I’m reading right now traces the difference between individualist and collective societies.  Given three images – a baboon, a porcupine, and a banana – someone from an individualist society will pair the animals, a functional pairing, while someone from a collective society will pair the baboon and the banana, a relational pairing.  It is hard for we individualists to think like a first century Jew, a collectivist.  So the idea that someone else’s faith might strengthen the community (versus every person’s faith helps themselves) makes for a strange thought for Americans, the ultimate individualists.  Yet it does.  This fits with the difficulty we have reading the bible as a communal document rather than an individualistic letter or instruction manual.  Yet this was not how Jesus, nor His audience, thought and processed the world.  A man being healed by the faith of his friends makes perfect sense to them, as seen by the Pharisees’ reaction against not an anti-individualist worldview but by Jesus claiming to forgive sins.

“The bible was meant to be read, discussed, and even debated in community,” Klyne Snodgrass says.  And that community must be global or we can’t understand the worldview of the scriptures.

The story of Gideon is the story of fear.  Gideon again and again expresses his fear of his enemies, his own townspeople, and of God Himself.  And while “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”  this isn’t that kind of fear.  The fear that brings wisdom is the recognition of God’s otherness, supremacy, and rule in our own lives.  The fear of Gideon is more what we experience day to day; doubt, threat, and self-preservation.

Gideon begins his story by threshing wheat, an activity that requires the wind to be effective, in a winepress, a place created to be shielded from the wind.  How often does our fear make our efforts ineffective?

He then has a conversation with God where all he expressed is doubt, in God’s goodness, in himself, in his people, and in God’s promises.  How often does our fear lead us to doubt both God and ourselves?

Accepting God’s command to destroy the altar of the false god Baal in his hometown, he does so at night out of fear of the anger of those he lives with.  How often does our fear make us obey God’s commands but in a way that doesn’t put us at risk?

Gideon requires not one sign from God but two in order to prove Himself to Gideon, and patiently God obliges.  How often do we wait to obey God until we’re sure of the outcome rather than trusting Him, all because of our fear?

God recognizes that Gideon’s army is following the lead of their leader – they are terrified of the coming battle.  So God sends the fearful home, promising to conquer Midian with whatever is left.  How often does our fear “send us home” from serving God?

Gideon still doesn’t believe God will give him victory, so God sends a dream to his enemies to encourage Gideon.  How often has God reassured you in the midst of your fear, reminding you of past victories or promising future ones?

Finally, Gideon and his 300 warriors shout, “boo” at the Midianites and they all turn and kill themselves.  The primary victory comes without Gideon or his people lifting a sword.  How often has God won your victories without you having to do anything but obey?

The story of Gideon is the story of fear.  Gideon again and again expresses his fear of his enemies, his own townspeople, and of God Himself.  And while “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”  this isn’t that kind of fear.  The fear that brings wisdom is the recognition of God’s otherness, supremacy, and rule in our own lives.  The fear of Gideon is more what we experience day to day; doubt, threat, and self-preservation.

Gideon begins his story by threshing wheat, an activity that requires the wind to be effective, in a winepress, a place created to be shielded from the wind.  How often does our fear make our efforts ineffective?

He then has a conversation with God where all he expressed is doubt, in God’s goodness, in himself, in his people, and in God’s promises.  How often does our fear lead us to doubt both God and ourselves?

Accepting God’s command to destroy the altar of the false god Baal in his hometown, he does so at night out of fear of the anger of those he lives with.  How often does our fear make us obey God’s commands but in a way that doesn’t put us at risk?

Gideon requires not one sign from God but two in order to prove Himself to Gideon, and patiently God obliges.  How often do we wait to obey God until we’re sure of the outcome rather than trusting Him, all because of our fear?

God recognizes that Gideon’s army is following the lead of their leader – they are terrified of the coming battle.  So God sends the fearful home, promising to conquer Midian with whatever is left.  How often does our fear “send us home” from serving God?

Gideon still doesn’t believe God will give him victory, so God sends a dream to his enemies to encourage Gideon.  How often has God reassured you in the midst of your fear, reminding you of past victories or promising future ones?

Finally, Gideon and his 300 warriors shout, “boo” at the Midianites and they all turn and kill themselves.  The primary victory comes without Gideon or his people lifting a sword.  How often has God won your victories without you having to do anything but obey?

God must be so patient with His people.  And often disappointed.  Again and again, we turn away from God, get ourselves in trouble, ask for His help and when He does, we turn back… temporarily.  This is the basic story of God’s people throughout time, and the core of the entire book of Judges.  In fact, it’s even got a name: the Sin Cycle.  It begins as each section of Judges begins: “The people of God turned away from God and began worshiping other things.”  For them, it was usually Baal and Asherah.  For us it can be ourselves, or power, or control, or comfort.  Whatever it is, it leads us away from God and soon we are in trouble.

The Midianites or the Caananites were often the cause of the trouble for the Israelites.  For us, our trouble comes in doubt or debt, in pain or broken relationships, in addictions or attacks.  No matter who we are, when we get into trouble we usually turn to God for help.  And in patience, and disappointment, God comes to the rescue.  Not always right away – sometimes the wait is the lesson – but eventually, God rescues us.

And in gratitude, we follow and obey God… for a while.  But soon, the distractions of this world lead us away again, and the cycle starts all over again.  How long this cycle lasts varies, but usually it lasts as long as it takes for us to turn back to God.

Where are you in the cycle right now?  And how patient has God been with you?  And how much must He love you?

God must be so patient with His people.  And often disappointed.  Again and again, we turn away from God, get ourselves in trouble, ask for His help and when He does, we turn back… temporarily.  This is the basic story of God’s people throughout time, and the core of the entire book of Judges.  In fact, it’s even got a name: the Sin Cycle.  It begins as each section of Judges begins: “The people of God turned away from God and began worshiping other things.”  For them, it was usually Baal and Asherah.  For us it can be ourselves, or power, or control, or comfort.  Whatever it is, it leads us away from God and soon we are in trouble.

The Midianites or the Caananites were often the cause of the trouble for the Israelites.  For us, our trouble comes in doubt or debt, in pain or broken relationships, in addictions or attacks.  No matter who we are, when we get into trouble we usually turn to God for help.  And in patience, and disappointment, God comes to the rescue.  Not always right away – sometimes the wait is the lesson – but eventually, God rescues us.

And in gratitude, we follow and obey God… for a while.  But soon, the distractions of this world lead us away again, and the cycle starts all over again.  How long this cycle lasts varies, but usually it lasts as long as it takes for us to turn back to God.

Where are you in the cycle right now?  And how patient has God been with you?  And how much must He love you?

There is a lot in this reading to notice, but one thing truly stood out to me.  And it was the last thing we read.

I have, since high school theater, been pretty good in front of a crowd.  Theater taught me to be comfortable on stage and how to improvise when necessary.  These skills have made being in front of a church, a camp, a conference, or any group of people pretty easy for me and I thank God for it.  This is true everywhere but one particular place – my home church.  I have yet to do anything in front of my home church without making a mistake and then getting stage fright and compounding that problem.  From singing, to preaching, to acting, to sharing a testimony, for some reason I have a block when it comes to my home church.

It seems Jesus didn’t have that particular block, and yet it is at His home church that His message is first rejected.  But the reason for the rejection is an interesting one.  He begins by reading from the prophet Isaiah, giving the mission statement for His entire ministry.  He then, quite arrogantly it seems, proclaims that this reading has been fulfilled in their presence.  I’ve heard sermons about how this seeming arrogance got Jesus kicked out.  But the crowd’s reaction to this is actually a very positive one.  They “spoke well of Him” and were quite proud of their hometown boy.  But then He continues.

It’s the next comments that draws the ire of this Jewish crowd.  Jesus, through two OT examples, proclaims that all He has come to do will not be reserved for the Jews, but will be for the Gentiles as well.  The two examples are the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, both foreigners blessed by God.  It is this that riles the crowd and led to His banishment from His home church.

Are there people that you feel shouldn’t receive the grace and blessing of God?  What are the ways that you are building borders around your “group” to keep God’s blessing in?

“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all people;
a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

Looking at Jesus, Simeon proclaims to have seen God’s salvation, prepared in the sight of all people.  Simeon, a man filled with the Holy Spirit as few before him had been, proclaims Jesus as God’s salvation.  This is not hard for us to take given what we know of Jesus.  But Jesus is 8 days old here, and Mary, less than a year from her encounter with Gabriel the angel, hears him loud and clear.

Jesus is the light spoken of throughout the Old Testament prophets, the light that will reveal God to the Gentiles.  John will begin his Gospel with this image of a light shining in the darkness.  Jesus will use this image to describe Himself as the Light of the World and His disciples as bearers of that same light.  It is He who can show God to the Gentiles because He is the very image of God.

But He is also the glory of God’s people.  That’s us, folks.  Our glory is not in the size of our churches, or the amount of ministries we can run, or even the number of people we can help.  Our glory is not in our structures, or our leaders, or even in our beliefs.  Our glory is only in Jesus Christ, for He is our glory.

Simeon witnessed Jesus’ dedication and bore witness to Jesus Himself.  We are the same witnesses.  We bear witness to Jesus’ activity in our lives with our every word and action.  How will you bear witness today?

“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all people;
a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

Simeon is one of my favorite characters in the bible.  There is little we know about him, yet much we can infer.

Simeon was tsadik, “a righteous one”.  This title was not just nicety but was a title given to those who most closely followed God’s law, lived with the intention of being righteous above all else.  Jesus’ father Joseph was tsadik until he agreed to marry Mary, that was.  Marrying a pregnant woman lost him the title.  But Simeon was one who lived his life completely for God and His righteousness.

Simeon was most likely Anawim.  The Anawim were the pious poor of Israel, those who awaited the coming of Messiah like no others.  Both Mary and Joseph, along with Elizabeth and Zechariah, were most likely of the Anawim.  These people were most often found around the temple where they worshiped and prayed for the coming Christ.

But Simeon was one more thing.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Big deal, we think, since we are ALL filled with the Holy Spirit.  But at this time, before Christ’s ministry, before Pentecost, being filled with the Holy Spirit was rare.  And rarer still in the centuries since the prophets stopped prophecying.  The Holy Spirit “B.C.” would come upon a person for a God-given task and once the task was complete, would leave them.  Few if any could be said that “the Holy Spirit was on him.”

Through the Spirit, Simeon had been told that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, and here Jesus was.  And so, with the completion of his ministry, Simeon gives us this beautiful hymn, a hymn we’ll look at more closely tomorrow.