Posted by: deerharas | October 13, 2008

Blessings and Woes

A few weeks ago I turned in my first grad school research paper.  Considering I haven’t written much else other than blogs these past four years, I was a little nervous about the assignment.  Regardless, I picked a topic and for a solid week did little else but read, highlight, and write … and write and write.  So, I’m sure you can understand my recent lack of blogging motivation.  : )

But, over two weeks have passed and I’m up for it again.  Actually, I wanted to write a little about my paper.  Usually, the second I turn in a research paper, I am itching to turn in my library books.  I cannot wait to have all evidence that a research paper occurred out of sight and out of mind.  And while I still am not “Little Miss Research,” this paper seemed to stick with me unlike any other I had written.

I think that picking a research topic can often be the most difficult part of the process.  My assignment was to trace a theme within one of the synoptic gospels, and initially I thought I might do something with Mark, either “kingdom” or “hiddenness.”  I was interested mainly because Mark is the shortest and we’d already gone over it in class.  Everyone I talked to, however, seemed to be thinking along similar lines.

The week before the paper was due Dr. Perrin lectured on Luke.  Towards the end of class, he split us into small groups and had each one read a different passage having something to do with the poor and then discuss the groups associated with the poor (lame, blind, etc.)  There were plenty of passages to go around.  My group read from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain.”  Most people, even unchurched, have heard of Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” or at least have heard the phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  However, what do you do with Luke who simply says “Blessed are you who are poor”?  Not sure I ever heard a sermon preached on that one.

Walking out of class that night, I changed my topic.  I hadn’t done any research yet anyway, so I made a decision.  I was going to write about the theme of “The Poor” in Luke.  The strange thing for me is that I rarely feel like I pick my research topics.  I may have some broad idea about what I’m going to write about, but once I get into it, things seem to change.  I went in thinking I would write about the poor, did all the research to that end, and ended up writing about the rich.  As I read more and more on the topic, it became more and more personal.  Rather than writing objectively about the ethical implications of Jesus’ apparent preference for the poor, I wrote personally about the ethical implications of the possession and dangers of wealth.

I don’t want this to be a Cliff’s Notes of my paper, so I’ll leave out the summarizing.  I’ll just say that after completing the paper, I still have a lot to think about.  I never considered myself rich, so I’m not sure Jesus’ stories and direct address (“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”) ever really spoke to me before.  However, as I read through Luke on this occasion, I saw myself reflected in the rich man, not Lazurus, in the rich young ruler, not the poor he was told to sell his goods to help.

I quoted Andrew Peterson the night I turned my paper in … the most writing I could muster at that point.  : )  His words so beautifully capture the point.  It’s not that there’s some inherent goodness in poverty or some inherent evil in wealth.  The poor are blessed because they know what it is to be in need.  They are in a spiritually enviable position in that “their economic misfortune render(s) them more responsive to the will of God.  Their daily hunger and grief h(o)ld them close to the prerequisites of the kingdom.”  (Okay, I had to get in one paper quote there … from Thomas Hoyt Jr.’s article “The Poor/Rich Theme in the Beatitudes” if you’re interested.)  Not to mention the fact that in the age to come there will be an end to their need.

Jesus speaks woes to the rich not because money is bad but because it’s easy to find our security and consolation in the world.  Like Andrew sings, I, too, am shackled by the comfort of my couch.  But the funny thing about woes is that they’re not actually condemnations.  They’re warnings.  It’s as though Jesus is saying, “Wake up!  Quit trusting in yourself and in your stuff and realize you have NOTHING apart from me!  Help those in need because I have blessed you to do so.  Glory in me, not in your possessions.”

The night before my paper was due, I had an interesting conversation with a man at the gas station behind my apartment.  We both approached the checkout counter at the same time, and he gestured for me to go first.  I stepped up to pay for my Dr. Pepper when the guy interjected, “Just buying lottery tickets.”  I think I might have smiled or said, “Oh,” my mind on getting out of there to get back to writing my paper when he piped up again, “Hope I win.”  He went on to tell me that he’d won $10,000 recently but that it was already gone.  I found this interaction a little ironic considering my paper topic.  I usually just nod and smile whenever strangers talk to me, but I thought I’d engage this man considering my paper and all.  “Yeah, I don’t think the track record’s too great on the people who win the lottery.”  To which he responded, “Yeah, you know money carries with it a kinda curse, but you know what?  Give me the curse.”  I gave an obligatory chuckle and walked back to finish my paper.

The dangers of wealth are almost inescapable.  We’re so culturally conditioned to think materially and selfishly, not eterally.  I would challenge you to read Luke with fresh eyes.  It’s amazing how much Jesus has to say about these issues.  Perhaps you’ll come away with a new or revived interest in helping the poor.  Or perhaps you’ll see a need for repentance as I did and still do.


  1. Sarah, this is a beautiful post! I actually inspired to go back and read in Luke again myself. Thank you! Thanks for the link you left on my blog too.. I have been checked the blog out this morning and feel grateful you have shared it with me.

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