Woe—Big Trouble

(This is an adaptation of my article for the Center for Congregational Ethics for July 6)

The editorial cartoon in the Tulsa World (July 12, 2022) shows a night sky over tombstones with the words in the sky saying: Too Many Things That Loom. The tombstones read: Fuel Crisis, Food Crisis, Climate Crisis, Housing Crisis, Mass Shootings, Nuclear War, Ukraine War, Homelessness, and Worse Inflation. It is a crowded cartoon. Our woes run deep and our fears are wide. 

I have been trying to make my peace with this little word “woe.” Is it self-pity or is it a curse? Woe is Me and Woe to You. I have found some insight through the Cambridge English Dictionary definition for woe—big trouble, or big sorrow. In the biblical context, the meaning is two-fold: 1) An exclamation of current trouble; or 2) A prophetic word of future trouble, both with an implied “unless…”  Unless we change direction, unless we re-frame our days, unless we are gentle with ourselves and others, our lives will be lived out as one long tale of woe. Big trouble.

The Bible readings are a portrait of the woes of despair, Psalm 6; the woes of circumstances, 2 Kings 6:1-7; and the woes of warning by Jesus, Luke 10:13-16. The psalmist exclaims his big trouble as he finds himself fearing death and surrounded by people he cannot trust—unless he prays God would intervene. The workman exclaims his big trouble when the borrowed axe he uses cutting down trees flies off its handle into the Jordon River—unless he turns to Elisha and the others for help in recovering the iron blade. In His commissioning of about six dozen followers sending them “to every town and place where he was about to go,” Jesus gives the warning woes of big trouble coming for the individuals who might reject the message of the kingdom of God—unless they listen and repent. We are in a world of woes—big trouble.

Our daily world of woes come in all sizes of pain and grief. On the days our own list of woes has quieted down, someone always seems to amplify the greater woes besetting the nation, the earth, or the dangers down the street. Some tales of woe are anxiety inducing, others are just plain gossip. All could use a measure of compassion.

Neighbors and strangers alike are looking for faithful and trustworthy people to share the burdens of their multiplying woes. Big troubles are everywhere unless, we, too, go where Jesus is about to go, sharing words of grace, hope and God’s love.

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