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Woe to You …


Jesus used the expression “Woe to you” in relation to Chorazin and Bethsaida because they did not repent in response to the preaching and mighty deeds of Jesus (Mt 11:21). Woe is a heart-felt exclamation of anger, misfortune, sadness, and grief related to sin and rejection of divine precepts. Jesus repeated “Woe to you” seven times against the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in Matthew 23. It was his virtual judgement of eternal damnation for their then status and his wish for a change of heart on their part for their salvation. Jesus used woe for Judas Iscariot: “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24). Jesus always welcomed the conversion of sinners and never wished for their destruction. However, because of their hardness of heart and unwillingness to be loyal to God and the precepts of Jesus, he reminded them of their upcoming judgement and distress.

In the Old Testament also, woe is associated with sin and destruction (Ezek 16:23). Hosea spoke against sinners: “Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Ruin to them, for they have rebelled against me! Though I wished to redeem them, they spoke lies against me” (Hos 7:13). People, when in despair, also used “woe” for themselves. To wage war against Philistine, the Israelites brought the ark to their camp. Then the Philistines got alarmed and said to themselves, “Woe to us!” (1 Sam 4:7-8).

“Woe” is a precondition for humans because all are born in a sinful state. “Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:7). Only God can forgive sin (Ps 51:3-4). That was why the Jews levelled the charge of blasphemy against Jesus when he forgave sins. “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation” (Rom 3:23-25). Those who reject redemption through Jesus and do not change their sinful lifestyle through repentance are already in condemnation. Their guilt and punishment are more severe because they already heard the message of salvation from Jesus and witnessed his mighty deeds proving his divinity. Whereas “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).

When Jesus used woe as a curse against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, it applied to the sinners living in those cities who were persistent in their sins. There could be righteous people and converts in those cities. During the Old Testament times, we see righteous people in every sinful city, such as Noah during the deluge, Abram in Ur, and Lot in Sodom. Jesus also had disciples from Bethsaida and Capernaum.


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