Not living in a day of horse and buggy, we don’t use the word “whoa” very much, though I have been forced to use it with a runaway child from time to time. “Whoa, there, son. You’re going a bit fast.”
Whoa is a call to slow down, take heed, be careful. Just when you’re going at a pace you’re comfortable with, someone or something seems to make you put on the breaks whether you want to or not. Usually, in the end, it’s for a good reason.
The homophone of whoa is woe, another word we’re not likely to use in modern-day conversation. It too is a warning of a type — that of extreme sorrow or distress. Typically, we hear it when a person reflects on their own state of being, like the prophet Isaiah, who said, “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”*
Today, however, I find these two words blending in my mind, as I read the words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel. He’d been talking to his disciples, though surrounded by the masses. He starts out with words of blessing for those who are choosing to follow him.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Even if you are poor, hungry or grieving, you are blessed in the Kingdom of God, for these things will pass away. They do not last for eternity. Even if the worse should happen, and you find yourself cursed, hated and rejected because of Christ, you are still among the blessed, because your reward is in heaven.
Jesus is getting his followers to look beyond this life, this present day, this time of struggle and grief to a day of blessing in eternity. That is the hope we have in him.
This is where the woes come in.
Knowing others were listening, others who may have been intrigued by the message of this “so-called” Messiah, but who kept their gaze firmly on the here-and-now, Jesus shifted to another reality or state of being. One not nearly as pleasant — at least not on the surface.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.*
Though they may be rich, well fed, laughing and in good standing with their fellow man, those who sought not the Kingdom of Christ, would know only a state of woe, distress and extreme sorrow.
Their woe was really a whoa from Jesus. Watch out! Life is not all as it appears, for this too shall pass. All will face the reality of eternity, and without Christ it is all woe. Life may seem good now, but you’ll soon be saying “woe is me” for eternity.
So, stop, look and listen to the words of Jesus. What you have or enjoy in this life is no guarantee for that which is to come. In the end, it’s the state of the heart that counts, not the state of the pocketbook or social standing. How surprised we will be to see those who have suffered most in this world, be welcomed with open arms to the next. It’s not because of their suffering they are welcomed, but because of their faith in the one who suffered first on their behalf.
Do you hear the Savior saying whoa to you today? I’d rather be blessed with less in this life than to say, “woe is me,” in the next.
All it takes is faith in the One who is the source of all blessings, now and in the life to come.
Grace and Peace
*Luke 6:20-22 (NIV).
*Luke 6:24-26 (NIV).