Jeremiah’s images are familiar. He talks about shrubs in the desert - parched places, uninhabited salt land. We can almost feel the shimmering heat, taste the dust on our tongues, see the vultures circling high overhead. That is what it is like to be cursed. Jeremiah contrasts that dire image with a tree planted by water - rooted by the stream, green leaves, cool shade, bearing fruit even in drought. That’s what it means to be blessed!
Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26
February 13, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright Jeremiah’s images are familiar. He talks about shrubs in the desert - parched places, uninhabited salt land. We can almost feel the shimmering heat, taste the dust on our tongues, see the vultures circling high overhead. That is what it is like to be cursed. Jeremiah contrasts that dire image with a tree planted by water - rooted by the stream, green leaves, cool shade, bearing fruit even in drought. That’s what it means to be blessed!
We want to be blessed, to be like that tree, to be hot-house flowers lush and beautiful, basking in the sanctuary of a controlled environment whether the temperature outside is 10° or 110°. Jeremiah is clear: if you want to be blessed, trust God and be like an orchid. If you put your trust in mortals instead, you’ll be a slowly dying, barely living, desert shrub. These images fit our picture of “blessed” and “cursed”. But along comes Jesus and shocks us. He says “blessed are you who are poor ... you who are hungry ... you who weep ... blessed are you when people hate you ...” Really? The poor are not like orchids, living in hot-houses. They live in cardboard boxes and tin-roofed shacks, in rundown apartments and overcrowded houses. How can Jesus say they are blessed? The hungry do not get a special soil mix and exact watering. They depend on soup kitchens and food pantries; they sort through garbage cans and miss meals. How are they blessed? The grieving are more like tumbleweeds - blown from one spot to the next by every wave of grief. In what mixed up world are they blessed? The reviled are more like cactuses - developing thick skin and spines to protect themselves from the onslaught of slander and abuse. How can Jesus say they are blessed? How can Jesus look all these people in the eye - this desperate multitude of the diseased and the spiritually troubled, the hungry and the desperately poor, those who have cried a river of tears and those who will be hounded for their faith; the footsore and the heartbroken, the expectant and the curious, the hopeful and the hesitant - and say to all of them, “you are blessed”?
I believe there are four reasons: He can say it because he is determined to make himself a blessing to such people by tending to their needs. Remember how his ministry began with words from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. " He can call them blessed because he is convinced that God has the power and the will to change their lot. Even before he could read the prophets, he heard his mother sing phrases from the Magnificat while she baked bread or swept the floor: “the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. [God’s] mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation ... [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Jesus can call them blessed because he knows that he will be training disciples for a ministry that will help the poor, feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, and give courage to those persecuted for their faith. Even today that is what congregations like this one do. And finally, Jesus can call them “blessed” because it is true. Here’s how I know that:
Growing up, there was a stark contrast between the fresh paint and clean streets of the Canal Zone and the tropical disorder and poverty of some Panamanian neighborhoods. We were driving through a poor section when I spotted a boy who had made a toy out of a scrap of wood, flattened tin cans, and mismatched tires. He had a smile that made me ache with envy, despite my matchbox cars and Legos. Weigh that scene in the scales and tell me who was blessed. But don’t take my word for it. Pulitzer Prize winning author Dr. Robert Coles, writes about Jesus’ blessed people, in his five volume series Children of Crisis. He was struck by the ironies when he compared the lives of the rich and poor. It was true the poor were cursed: he had treated miners with black lung disease, and malnourished children, like little Annie, who died at age three. Yet in a strange but undeniable way, the poor were also blessed with qualities such as courage and love and a willing dependence on God. So which of us is blessed and which is cursed. Are we, who live in hot-houses, truly blessed or do the glass panes and growing lights give us a false sense of security and independence and pride? Do those attractive lies cut us off from what God is trying to teach us, so we might grow to love our Lord and our neighbors? In addition to his strange blessings, Jesus says, “Woe to the rich …” What are we supposed to do in response to these challenging words? Give away all that we have? Skip meals until our stomachs growl? Sit down and manufacture some tears? Ruin our own reputation in hopes that we can move from one list to the other? No, don’t be silly! Blessings cannot be manipulated like that. Besides, there is nothing in this passage that suggests Jesus was telling anyone what he thought they should do. Instead, Jesus describes different kinds of people, hoping that his listeners will recognize themselves. Then he makes the same promise to all of them: the way things are is not the way they will always be. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way: “The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world’s lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom, while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars.” Poetic, right?! But don’t dismiss it as mere frosting. Instead, embrace the truth: You are not loved more if all your petals are perfect and calamity is not a sign that God has turned God’s back on you. Blessings from God can come in unexpected packages and whether a thing is a blessing or a curse often depends on how we receive it. And finally, it is good news that God will not leave things alone. In the kingdom of God, the needy will know abundance and those who have had more than enough will have, in that same kingdom, what they really need. Amen
 Quoted in Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey, p. 11  from Home by Another Way, p. 55