"What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now.
What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now, for a time of awful hunger awaits you. What sorrow awaits you who laugh now, for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)
After looking at the comparison above do you think these woes are wrongly positioned? It's nonsense isn't it? It is very clear Luke intended these woes to follow his beatitudes. They are finely balanced and contrastive. If nothing else the fact that there are four beatitude followed by four woes should tell us something about the symmetry of what Luke has written. But when we look in more detail we note there is far more symmetry than just the fact there are four of each. Luke has carefully structured these woes to make a point. Ah but what is the point?
The woes basically are the negative forms of the beatitudes. The word Woe [ouai] is a negative interjection. Some like Alas, How terrible, How horrible, Too bad . . . There is a warning or a threat which will lead ultimately to a cursed position. The beatitudes are effectively a statement of blessing; the woes are effectively a stated curse suggesting impending judgement. These woes are not directed toward the disciples. Jesus' statements are obviously more all encompassing now. But there must have been some among the hearers to whom these words applied. Hence the continued use of the 2nd person pronoun.
What is Jesus saying here? Is He saying that to be rich is not good. Should we all aim for poverty? Maybe it is better to be poor in this life than to be rich. And all the time I thought getting my first million was the goal. [Maybe that is why I moved to Indonesia because it is easy to be a millionaire here: a million rupiah is only US$69.96] it seems Jesus is saying these rich people will receive all their reward this side of Glory. There will be nothing on the other side for them because they haven't been sowing into their heavenly bank account. [See Gemz 564]. Note the occurrences of "now" and effectively in the first woe as well although the word doesn’t appear as such. Rather the words "already received" are used [apecho]. This is a commercial term which means "received in full" "paid in full". There will be no more pay out. Now you have all you will be getting. You have been paid in full in this life. This will be your only consolation, your only comfort in the after life. But why? You have received your comfort in this life and you expended great effort and wealth to ensure you were comfortable. But what about others? You only took care of your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now. The word here infers full up, satiated, having been filled with all you could possibly want. They lack nothing. They have been provided the finest and best; they have been stuffed with the good things of this life. The now is contrasting this life with the after life. The life of the Age to come. The part of life that will be oh so much longer than this one. Eternity versus a vapor or mist here today and gone tomorrow. I think also the inference is to be lacking in the riches of the kingdom of heaven. They have not sown for the future.
Woe to you who laugh now. Is Jesus against laughing? Of course not, The Bible is all for rejoicing and celebrating. My God is a party God; but a party or celebration of the right sort. It is not the empty laughter of chasing after pleasure or frittering away your life on frivolous pleasures. I think this links back to the event joy or life joy comments of the other day. I think their weeping in the future will be when they realize how badly wrong they got it. We could say much more about this and try to spell out what Luke is writing here but I am going to refrain from further comment and leave it with you to work out. Like I said when we came across the first reference to the poor, this is a continuing theme of Luke's. I am sure if you think about it more Luke's point and purpose here will be clear. If not there you will have many more opportunities to ponder it as we go through Luke. I am sure you can think of one of Jesus' parables told only in Luke which clarifies the reference point of these woes very well. I will leave you to think about it.
One more thing to draw your attention to before I leave this passage. Note how both the beatitudes and the woes are closed with the exact same statement. "For that is how their fathers treated the prophets". Only in the case of the woes they were false prophets. In the beatitudes the focus was on persecution and verbal attack. In the woe it is the opposite. In this case men speak well of them. Beware when the world speaks well of you. Note how they treated the prophets; with persecution. Note how they treated the false prophets; by speaking well of them. The values are all turned around. Tony Campolo in his book Who Switched the Price Tags talks of what happens when the value system is all messed up. He tells of when thieves broke into a department store in New York but didn’t steal anything. All they did was switched the price tags. Imagine the chaos the next morning when an item valued at $9.99 was selling for $999.00 and something valued at $2,500 was selling for $25.00. Isn't that what it is like in the this world. The real value of things is all screwed up. Make sure your value system and standard of measuring the value of things in this life is based on God's criteria. The world's value system is all messed up so don't use that.
Be sure to strive for God's commendation and not man's. The false prophets are those who gave a wrong interpretation of God's intent. It's clear now I hope that Jesus is not saying that to be rich is not good. It is all a question of what you do with your money. Do you share the blessings of your wealth with others or is your wealth purely to make you comfortable and well satisfied. If that is the focus of your riches you are in trouble. Hard hitting but true. Don't allow the false prophets or your own excuses to tell you otherwise. Riches are not evil; it is the way you use them that determines the final outcome.
Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. (Benjamin Franklin)
The value that you place upon anything is immediately revealed by the price that you are willing to pay for it. Robb Thompson
You cannot gain experience without paying a price.
You just have to hope that the price is not greater than the value of the experience you gain. Bob Gass
You cannot judge what the price will be until after you have gained the experience. It's tragic to pay the price for experience and not learn the lesson. Bob Gass
If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise your price! Rick Godwin