Woe to you! A group of British actors produced a television skit based on Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet: ” To be, or not to be: that is the question.” In the skit, the actors argued over how to say the line, one read it as “To be or not to be”. Another said, “To be or not to be”. Another stressed the word “that” and yet another stressed “question”. The skit was funny, but it makes an interesting point, the meaning on words can change depending on how we hear them.
When Jesus says, “Woe to you”! How do you hear him? It is easy to imagine angry condemnation. But look at the context. Rather than expressing anger, Jesus is more likely speaking out of unrequited love. He has performed numerous miracles, preached about his kingdom, and demonstrated God’s mercy and love – all to little avail. So now he is admonishing them, not wishing them woe, but warning them of woe to come if the do not accept his message.
Sometimes we prejudge people in the same way that we prejudge their words or actions. We have heard that someone does not go to church, that the person holds certain views – or maybe that he or she has an offensive bumper sticker on his or her car. But we can not really know what people are like unless we have talked to them. And if somehow we do learn that they are far from the Lord, that should make us more compassionate toward them, not more condemning. We should never make our faith an “us versus them” affair.
We know that in our own strength, we can not love anyone as Jesus loves them. But that is okay because we have received the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit who lives in the heart of God, the same Spirit who enabled the apostles to preach, teach, and heal. So ask the Spirit to give you a more compassionate heart. If you try to see people through his eyes, you will begin to look for ways to reach out to them. You do not need an elaborated plan. Just try your best to show them the same love, compassion, and patience that God has shown you.
-word among us