Those Who Weep Shall Laugh

Reversal of Weeping in the Gospel of Luke

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Sung Min Hong
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , August
     182 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The purpose of Sung Min Hong’s book—a doctoral dissertation written under Brandon D. Crowe at Westminster Theological Seminary—is to argue that the reversal of weeping is a distinctive theme in the Gospel of Luke. Scholars tend to treat those who weep as a sub-category of the poor, thus subsuming weeping under the rubric of the reversal of the poor and the rich in Luke. Hong argues that Luke deliberately highlights weeping as its own theme, in large part, through the repeated use of the verb klaiō (to weep). 

What makes Those Who Weep Shall Laugh: Reversal of Weeping in the Gospel of Luke most distinctive is its exploration of the cases in which reversal is not only proclaimed—as in the beatitudes and the Magnificat—but also enacted in narrative form: the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11–17), the sinful woman who wipes Jesus’s feet with her tears (Luke 7:36–50), the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:40–56), and Peter’s grief over his betrayals (22:54–62). The book offers thorough and thoughtful explorations of all four episodes. Hong makes the case that the common use of the verb klaiō links each example to the reversal promised in the beatitude in Luke 6:21b: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Less persuasive is the claim that those who weep are easily distinguished from the category of the poor, as the term “the poor” in the Old Testament (OT) and Second Temple literature can indicate not only economic deprivation but also marginalization, oppression, or even piety—the latter tendency seen most clearly in the Qumran texts. Hong tends to identify Luke’s weeping characters (especially the widow and the “sinful woman”) as the marginalized (79, 82). 

Hong’s strongest example is the synagogue ruler Jairus, since in Luke’s rich-poor dichotomy, Jairus might be counted as one of the rich. Hong specifically does not analyze Jairus’s social status in order to complicate the simple identification of those who weep with the poor or the marginalized. For example, Hong first describes Jairus as “honorable, well known, and respectable” (94)—but later concludes that Jairus is one of the marginalized (140). It might have strengthened Hong’s case to instead treat Jairus as an insider, which would allow him to illustrate the point that not all of those who weep count as “the poor.” Hong even notes, tantalizingly, that Jairus falling at Jesus’s feet might be an example of the mighty brought low (Luke 1:52) (94). It is also harder to view Peter through the lens of the marginalized, or to see his weeping as a reversal in story form, since his reversal (to joy or laughter) is not explicitly narrated in Luke’s Gospel, as Hong acknowledges (107). 

Also somewhat less persuasive is chapter 4, “The Reversal of Joy to Weeping.” The use of “joy” in the title is misleading, as Hong notes that the Septuagint (LXX) often frames laughter in negative terms, and associates laughter with “people experiencing worldly ease” (110)—suggesting that those who laugh overlap, at least in part, with the rich. The chapter ultimately equates laughter with a lack of recognition of God’s kingdom. This allows Hong to use this second type of reversal to narrate Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44), and the women of Jerusalem weeping over Jesus as he goes to his death (Luke 23:27–31), but this makes laughter a very loose category indeed. It may have been more fruitful to treat both episodes not as reversals, but as examples of a prophet-mediator’s intercessory lament. Perhaps warnings over God’s impending judgment could be considered under the category of reversal—broadly construed—but it’s not clear that “laughter” and disobedience may be mapped onto one another so closely. 

Some treatments are surprisingly brief. Although Hong names the beatitude in Luke 6:21b as “the programmatic statement” and “the touchstone passage” for the Lukan theme of the reversal of weeping (61, 66), discussion of it covers only five pages and largely focuses on a comparison with Matthew’s version in Matt 5:4. A section on the fulfillment of reversal in the present is helpful but terse (at just under four pages), and does not address the question of whether the “negative reversal”—from laughter to weeping—also has a present, and not merely eschatological, component. 

Nonetheless, I recommend this book for any scholar interested in the study of the gospels. I found especially helpful the discussion of why the woman with unbound hair weeps in Luke 7:36–50, and the exploration of the OT and Second Temple backgrounds to the motif of weeping. The book is written in a clear and accessible style, with only minor roadblocks for the non-specialist as the Greek is neither transliterated nor translated, and a few lengthy German quotations are also left untranslated. 

Hong concludes by noting that one could apply the same analysis used on Luke in Those Who Weep Shall Laugh to Acts. One hopes that Hong picks up his pen to do so, as anyone interested in Luke-Acts, or of the theme of reversal in the Gospels, would benefit from such a study.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rebekah Eklund is Associate Professor of Theology at Loyola University of Maryland.

Date of Review: 
May 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sung Min Hong is Adjunct Professor and Department Coordinator of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He has translated several books into Korean, including Raymond Brown’s The Death of the Messiah and The Epistles of John (Anchor Bible Commentary).

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