Having read what Scripture Scholars say about today’s Gospel reading, I can say that there is wide disagreement as to how to understand it.
I think we must look at it from the point of view of the author; that is Luke.
Elsewhere we are told that Luke was a physician – a medical doctor. As such he could and would be able to make a comfortable living in most circumstances. He wouldn’t be regarded as poor or hungry or rejected in any literal sense of the word. Nevertheless I think he would regard himself as qualifying as blessed, together with the poor, the hungry, the despised etc.
On the other hand, in the eyes of many he would be regarded as rich at least insofar as he wasn’t poor or hungry or insulted.
Consider that Jesus of Nazareth spent his life standing up for, trying to alleviate, and supporting, the poor and the downtrodden. He looked on poverty as unjust and the result of injustice and greed by the rich and powerful. He did not say ‘put up with your poverty now because when you die you will have a great time in the Kingdom of Heaven.’
So how can the poor and the hungry be blessed???
They certainly don’t feel blessed.
And then we read; ‘Woe to you who are rich.’ Woe to you who are well fed.’
In the eyes of most people in poor countries, in the eyes of some people in this country, all of us here in church today qualify as rich and as well fed.
God’s wish, God’s plan for all people, for each and every human being, is a long, healthy and happy life here on earth and then sharing in the Eternal Life and happiness of God the Creator. Is this possible if I am poor and hungry?
Jesus of Nazareth; God made man, proved this over and over again by his miracles of healing, physical and spiritual, his feeding of the hungry, his insistence of sharing donations given to him and his followers with the poor and beggars. His producing over a hundred gallons of good wine when they ran short at a wedding. His delight in attending parties where there was good food and wine. His mixing freely with both rich and poor, with supporters and with those opposing him. His eventual arrest and execution for continually opposing injustice and oppression.
It is in this context that we must read and understand today’s Gospel reading. It is a rejection and a condemnation of the values and priorities of this world. It turns on its head what this world generally regards as success and failure.
Woe to those whose lives are dedicated to rampant ambition and power seeking. To those whose priority is the pursuit of wealth and fame at any cost. Woe to those who ignore and even laugh at the plight of the poor and the needy. Who see no need whatever to fight injustice and oppression but co-operate in this injustice and oppression.
Today’s Gospel reading is a call to me to adjust my priorities. To change my outlook drastically. To be Christlike. To look to the needs of others as I look to my own needs and the needs of my own family.
Many of us today are dumbfounded by the ruthless greed of many of the already super rich. Many of us today are dumbfounded at the near total disregard of governments to the plight of not only the poor and destitute but also to the plight of the less well off who struggle to make ends meet.
That is the message of todays Gospel reading.