Mental Gymnastics, Blessings, and Being Upside Down

I think I have gotten into more theological arguments over the ideas found in our reading in Luke than any other.

37646955We often make a lot of mental, philosophical, and theological jumps when approach a passage like the beatitudes. I will never forget one of the biggest arguments I even had in a class I was teaching was over these words in Matthew. The argument was simply this: surely Jesus doesn’t really mean what he is saying here. It is what we do with this kind of teaching. We look for loopholes and find ways around the difficulty which is being asked of us.

And not just in a Bible class setting, but in the way we live our lives. I may be able to argue theologically about taking Jesus’ seriously, but my life certainly does not alway reflect it. So we play mental gymnastics to keep from having to really pay attention to Jesus’ words for our life.

And in my experience, the presence of mental gymnastics and hostility against difficult words reveals a place we have let something other than Jesus lay ultimate claim on our lives. Maybe our harsh reactions are a way of the Spirit leading us into the darkness.

But let’s look at what Jesus is saying. We throw the term blessing around in a lot of weird ways, and I think that is part of what Jesus is addressing here.

How many times have you heard people use the word “blessing” when referring to something which enriched their monetary well-being or increased their level of comfort? Or maybe the opposite – they were blessed because they didn’t lose money or have to be uncomfortable.

Yet look what Jesus says about blessing. Those who think they are blessed because they are rich, “satisfied”, and comfortable have sorrow awaiting them. Real blessing is found in poverty, hunger, and weeping.

That doesn’t even make sense to us.

It helps if we understand what Jesus wants FOR us. We often speak in terms of the things Jesus wants FROM us – how we can please (or appease) him, but I think we miss something essential about Jesus when we speak in these ways. Jesus is not expecting something from us, as if we can repay him in some way.

Jesus wants the best possible life FOR us. He wants to teach us how to be fully human.

And our default ways of living tend to live keep us from that kind of life. Here specifically, we find that a focus on money and comfort is one way we miss out on that full humanity.

We think it will satisfy us and so we pursue it. But in the end, it leaves us empty.

If we want full life, we must learn to embrace things like hurt, sorrow, discomfort, and waiting (Advent is right around the corner!). Because we can try all we want to avoid these things, but they are a fact of life. Jesus doesn’t say he comes to help us avoid the difficult parts of life. Jesus comes to say he will meet us IN those things. Jesus teaches us full life is not about how rich and comfortable we are. Full life is about allowing Jesus to meet us in the real, actual, Ordinary places in life.

And if we are going to address real life, we must address those uncomfortable places. If not in our lives, then in the lives of others. And that puts us at odds with the way the world around us works.  But I will leave that discussion for a later day.

What I want to walk away with today is that Jesus wants us to re-think what full life and blessing is all about. He is asking to let go of our ideas about life being about getting everything we want and avoiding pain and discomfort. Because that kind of life is a shallow and fleeting pursuit.

q12True life is about meeting Jesus right where we are and allowing him to teach us the radically upside-down ways of living. And only when we live those things out will we understand that it is Jesus flying right side up, we have just been living in an upside-down world.

And what a blessing it is to know which way is up.

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