Daniel 7.1-18; Luke 6.17-31
It was in 2011 that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ became a publishing sensation and I suppose a sensation for the readers of books on Kindles and other e-readers
After all, people could read the book without others next to them on the Tube or the bus actually knowing that they were reading it. It was understandable; who’d want to admit to having read it?
Fifty shades of grey – it sounds like the colour chart for the high class end of the paint market, Farrow & Ball. In fact, it’s often what the world seems like, not the subject matter of that book, but the world of compromises, the shades of opinion, the dissembling and the uncertainties that can so often go on.
But in fact we live in a world of real contrasts, of binary choices – on or off, dark or light, cold or hot, black or white, dead or alive, salt or sweet, ying or yang. The choices are sharp and they’re real and whilst we might all be able to think of some half way points in almost all of these, their reality is in their absolute difference, the starkness of the choice they represent.
The Gospels contain two versions of the Beatitudes. The most famous is part of the Sermon on the Mount that St Matthew records for us early on in his gospel. He gives us a series of eight blessings
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are the pure in heart ..’
and so on.
By contrast St Luke gives us similar teaching but this is not delivered on the mount but on the plain. And the big distinction is that there are only four blessings in his version and what’s most important, these are balanced out by four woes. So as we heard we get ‘blessed are you’ and then ‘woe is you’.
What both gospel writers are saying to us, and more importantly, what Jesus is saying to us, is something simple – your actions will have consequences, the way in which you choose to live your life will have consequences. Matthew chooses to put it in terms of blessings but Luke with his more challenging style and with his attention to the needs of the poor and the demands of justice in the kingdom of God, points out the real negatives in this series of four woes.
If you’re laughing now you’ll weep later; if you’re weeping now you’ll be laughing in the kingdom of God.
It’s clear, unequivocal, direct teaching and the implications are simple – make your choice, choose how to live, because your choice will have consequences.
In many ways both writers, but particularly Luke, are echoing something that Moses sets before the people in the Book of Deuteronomy. They’re in the wilderness, making their slow way to the Promised Land, falling by the wayside on many occasions, doubting God and doubting his servant Moses and so they’re told they have a choice. Moses cannot set it before them any more clearly, any more starkly than he does.
‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days’.
It’s as simple as that – choose life and live. There are no shades of grey in what Jesus nor Moses says and we may try to find the grey but it won’t give life in all its fullness which is precisely what Jesus brings.
Daniel concludes his vision into the heavenly places, as we heard in the First Lesson, with these words
‘The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’These are those who choose well, these are those who chose life rather than death, truth rather than lies, peace rather than war, light rather than dark, love rather than hate. The choice is ours, the choice is yours.