From the Gospel of Luke:

Jesus said: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Bookplate Engraving of "Sloth"Today I am forcing myself to get back in the groove with these daily meditations on bits of Scripture from the lessons of the Episcopal Church’s Daily Office Lectionary. I took a break two weeks ago about the time of my father-in-law’s death and funeral, a break which was just supposed to be a couple of days, and it stretched on and on and I got out of the habit. I tried, a couple of times (once with a bit from Judith and once with bit from the fourth chapter of Luke), but I couldn’t discipline myself to sit down, compose, and publish the thoughts in my head. I was slothful; in the words of medieval monks, I was suffering from daily, early-morning acedia. Acedia, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, according to Wikipedia is “a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world.” That is not the mental state exhibited by Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, but I think he addresses it and, thus, today’s lesson has helped me out of my own torpor.

In today’s Gospel we have the Lukan version of the Beatitudes which differs in many respects from the more well-known and oft-quoted version in Matthew (Matt. 5:3–12). It differs so much that we refer to Luke’s rendition as “the Blessings and Woes” rather than as “Beatitudes,” and that title gives witness to the most distinctive difference, the addition of the “woes” addressed to the well-off. And it is those “woes” which I focus on today.

Each of these states of woe is introduced in the same way. In Greek the word translate into English as “woe” is ouai. It’s pronounced something like “oo-why” and is, according to something I remember reading in seminary but can’t find now, an onomatopoetic term expressive of a sigh . . . a sigh of profound sadness. So rather than being (as is often understood) Christ’s prediction of some terrible calamity that is to befall the well-to-do, the satisfied, the currently happy, or those who are lauded, these “woes” are statements of Jesus’ current sadness about them.

Why should Jesus be unhappy about this state of well-being? I suspect it is because well-being can lead to complacency or, worse, to efforts to maintain it at the expense of others. Complacency is a form of acedia. It makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new; it makes people resist change. The complacent will stick to what they have always done even when it stops working. The theme-song of the complacent is, “We’ve always done it this way.” Jesus stands in opposition to “the way it’s always been done.” He calls us to new ways of behavior, new ways of being in community, new ways of caring for one another. No wonder he sighs so deeply with such sadness for the satisfied, for the complacent.

So this is where I find encouragement, inspiration, and energy in this passage . . . after heaving these profound sighs, Jesus doesn’t just sit there. He goes on with his teaching, issuing his call for changed behavior, and then goes on with his ministry; in the first verse of the next chapter, Luke tells us, “After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.” (Luke 7:1) Immediately, he is confronted by a request for healing and then, shortly thereafter, he raises the son of the widow of Nain from death. For Jesus (and for us) complacency is just not an option! We may sigh, but there is always something to be done.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.