Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The World Turned Upside Down

The oldest and easiest error we fall into is thinking that those who are rich and powerful have God's favor, and those who aren't are being punished. The Old Testament Book of Job starkly condemns this wrong idea, and when Job's 'friends' - who blamed Job for bringing his misfortunes onto himself by sinning against God - are judged at the end of the tale, they are slated for punishment.

It's true that we often come to grief by becoming addicted to drugs, gambling, adultery, or some other self-destructive behavior. But even more often people are casualties of the ubiquitous cruelties of life on planet earth. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed
Jesus turned the world on its head by giving the Sermon on the Mount. Here it is, from Matthew 5:7:

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

 He said:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
  Blessed are the humble,
    for they will inherit the earth.
  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
  Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
  Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
  Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Even more dramatic is Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the rich man, from Luke 16:19. In it, Lazarus is a destitute person of the street whom the rich man sees daily and despises. Upon dying, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man to hell.

These words fly in the face of worldly power, and were thought to be the words of a madman by the Jewish High Priests and Roman authorities. Ask yourself, honestly, if you would teach your children to be this trusting and passive. It's a very hard path that Jesus has laid out for us. He asks us to "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me." And he says to his disciples, "The last shall be first, and the first last. He who is the servant of all is the greatest among you." Even Jesus' disciples were dumbfounded by that statement.

This behavior largely alienates us from the modern world, if followed to the letter. Nevertheless, it is the price we pay for the Kingdom of Heaven. I don't know about you, but all I can do in this life is attempt to live this way. I don't have faith enough to go all in.

But, as the saying goes, "Half a loaf is better than none". I believe God will forgive us the other half loaf we can't deliver.

Jesus goes on to say:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."