Several weeks ago on my blog, I published “Your Script”. I am borrowing from that post for today’s homily. In the gospel Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida”. Previously I noted that one way I explore Scripture is to imagine that I am a cinema director tasked with filming today’s gospel as a scene in the larger narrative about the life of Jesus. So…. what direction would you give to actor playing Jesus about the tone and tenor he should use in the line above?
To our 21st century ear, the expression “woe to you” is often taken as the words proclaiming condemnation and ultimate destiny of perdition. It is easily imagined on the lips of a firebrand evangelical preacher. Yet there are two ways “woe to you” can be understood – both of which contain the warning that sin and rejection of Jesus has eternal consequences. In one way, think of the evangelical preacher calling down eternal damnation in all its fiery spectacle, his thunderous voice harshly crying out, “Woe to you…” Frightening to say the least.
In another way, one recognizes that “woe” is a biblical cry of lament, sorrow, and disappointment. Think of the same preacher, voice replete with a plaintiff sorrow, in that he feels he has failed in his mission and the consequences for the listener are horrific. The words are no less harsh in their consequences. This latter sense reflects the prophetic tradition. A woe warns of lament or sorrow about the current condition and attitudes of some people, which left unchanged leads to condemnation. Woe is an expression of regret, not of vindictiveness, with a meaning like ‘Alas.’
So…here’s our plan. (A) let’s not disappoint or cause Jesus sorrow and (B) see plan A.