Tag Archives: status quo

Upside down world

How good you are at the High Jump? You must at least have seen athletes on TV – a short run (but not straight at the bar), at the last minute they seem to turn away, and then jump with a curious swing of the legs. Somehow, it’s not an obvious way of doing it – and you will understand I don’t try.

I won’t even think about pole vaulting!

That seems a good way in to Jesus’ comments. (Luke 6:17-26). He had chosen 12 apostles, and gathered them, with others who had been following him, and a crowd of local onlookers. He was healing people, but, as always, teaching as well.

And it is his teaching which seems strange:

Blessed are you who are poor

Blessed are you who hunger now

Blessed are you who weep now

Blessed are you when people hate you Luke 6:20-22 part

There’s nothing happy about poverty – it is limiting, often uncomfortable, insecure. The same thing with hunger; we’re not talking about effective dieting, but about starvation, weakness, the risk of illness and inability to work or even move about freely. Crying, being hated – the same applies.

What can Jesus be talking about?

In part, he may be talking about spiritual poverty. (Matthew 5:3 reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit”) – but not entirely. Read carefully, and you see that Jesus is talking about people who are not entirely happy with the way things are now, on earth. They are not so heavily invested in the status quo that they aren’t actively looking for something better.

The poor will find the Kingdom of God because they know something is badly wrong with life here and now. The hungry will value the bread Jesus offers – not just at the feeding miracles. The hated have the nerve to be loyal to a Saviour unpopular with the establishment.

For those who don’t want to be disturbed, it gets worse. Luke adds verses Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” lacks:

“But woe to you who are rich, . .

Woe to you who are well fed now, . .

Woe to you who laugh now, . .

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, . .

We see that the same sort of explanation applies. A minority of Jesus followers were wealthy, and able to provide for their needy brothers and sisters. Jesus isn’t cursing them, but taking very seriously the dangers of complacency, of the wrong sort of contentment. (“I’m all right Jack, keep off what’s mine”). The well fed may be drowsy rather than alert to the need for justice. The laughers may scorn the abused. The popular may not have passed on the words of God, which sometimes warn or redirect.

Things are not what they seem. Those who appear to have done well – are in real danger. If you want to live well, you have to approach life, well, like a high jumper. A curious technique, which seems impossible until it works.

We aren’t poor, not by global standards. Nobody here is starving, and if some are sad and others have been the subject of gossip, it is the ordinary events of life, not critical destitution, we are speaking of.

Can we, then, find the motivation to live as Christians? Do we understand how lightly we must sit to wealth, posessions, even good times and good reputation?

Those who follow Jesus must go where he goes, see as he sees, and only then reach the promised glory. Perhaps we should talk more of the sinners in heaven, and less of our earthly success?

Authority – and conflict

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do, and when Jesus goes to Capernaum synagogue, it causes quite a stir. (Mark 1:21-28)
First, there’s his style. He doesn’t talk like the rabbis of the time, quoting other scholars’ comments in a learned way, claiming the authority of their study and their official position. He talks about God as if he knows directly, and tells stories of ordinary life to explain God’s love – as a shepherd searching for lost sheep, or a father finding a lost son.

The official reaction might have been to dismiss an ignorant con-man, if it had not been for the second thing. Jesus demonstrates his authority, even over unclean spirits. You can’t ignore someone who successfully heals someone who was probably known in the community. You can see the beginnings of a conflict – Jesus threatens the status quo.

[Incidentally, we sometimes wonder about “evil spirits” and mental illness. The advance of psychiatry is a great blessing, and many of those obsessed with spirits and possession need a good doctor. There is a difference in this story, in that the spirit recognises Jesus, and has knowledge beyond that of the man possessed. Despite the “Hollywood effect”, (sensationalising and sometimes trivialising,) there is a difference, but spotting it needs care and experience, and discernment by someone who is not the patient.]

The healing of the possessed man also points to a more serious conflict – Jesus is taking on, not just the vested interests of the human religious establishment, but also the evil powers enslaving humanity.

Back to talking about God. Moses had spoken to the people about God (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and they found him less frightening than the fire on the holy mountain. Deuteronomy speaks of another prophet, to speak for God. It is a dangerous position. The words of the prophet must be listened to; but to speak as if God had given the message when he had not is to be liable to death.
Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. !

But of course, there is a good deal about danger in these readings. As we come to the end of Epiphany season, we realise not only that Jesus was shown to the world, and became known, in a number of ways:

  • Baptism,
  • calling disciples,
  • miracles,
  • teaching,
  • authority . .

but also that these things brought him into conflict. Part of the conflict was with people who wanted things to stay as they were – because they did well out of the status quo, or were afraid of what might happen, or couldn’t be bothered. Another, and perhaps better way of understanding that conflict was to see Jesus challenging evil – the darkness of fallen minds and bad customs, the evil of oppressive relationships, cruel poverty – in short, challenging the devil for supremacy on earth.

The violent metaphors for Christian life – battle, struggle, temptation, victory or defeat – are not the most popular now. As we look forward to Lent, we will find that Christian life cannot do without them, though they are not the whole story.

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. Even apart from the need to get it right, it brings us into the most fundamental conflict of all!