When I was young, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. To be fair, there were also times I wanted to be a cowboy, a policeman, an NBA player or the person who hands out suckers to little kids at the bank. These are dreams to which most little boys aspire.
But since my dad was in the Air Force, I got to spend some time around large planes and I dreamed of what it’d be like to fly one of them. (OK, I also saw Top Gun around that time and thought about how cool it would be to wear aviator glasses, ride a motorcycle and play sand volleyball with my shirt off, but that is neither here nor there.)
The dream died when I realized that I was actually afraid of heights. And also when I discovered the effects that a jet ride can have on a person:
That is not a natural thing for a body to endure. I’m told a ride along in a fighter jet can cause sickness and disorientation for days. Yet pilots have experienced these effects and their bodies have adjusted. What used to be disorienting has now become their natural state. Although it took much time and training, it is a way of life for them now.
I often find myself returning to certain portions of Scripture. One of them is Matthew 5:
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 meek,
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.
These are the types of words in the Bible that we might see sewn onto a decorative pillow, as if they are cutesy and sweet. They have become fodder for greeting cards and posters.
And yet they are some of the most disorienting words I have ever read.
Jesus was not simply describing ways for a person to find blessing. He was introducing a new kingdom, a new reality where life is often upside-down from our expectations. A place where mercy overcomes revenge, where generosity trumps selfishness, and where peace is more persuasive than war. This is not the way we expect the world to work.
Our culture works in certain ways. It is built on strength and aggression and the dogged pursuit of personal accomplishment. We hunger for achievement, not righteousness. We wear masks instead of mourning. Kingdoms are built on blood and violence and pushing others down.
What Jesus was describing was a horrible way to build a movement. In fact, many people stopped following him (both then and now) because of words like these. It doesn’t seem like the best way to get ahead in life. Yet centuries later, many of us are still trying to navigate life in this way.
And many times I feel like instead of enjoying the ride, I’m passing out from the disorientation.
My faith is anchored in these verses, however, for one simple reason: If truth does not exist in these words, then the Jesus movement would have failed a long time ago. If blessing did not come from following them, people would have stopped trying. If purity was not greater than lust, if mercy was not greater than revenge, if discipline were not greater than self-indulgence, then the name of Jesus would be a footnote in history.
I believe that following Jesus is about living my best life right now. I believe that his kingdom is better than any other.
In our readings this week, Jesus explained the value of his kingdom. He told stories of people discovering a treasure in a field or finding a valuable pearl. And they traded whatever else they had of value to get it.
Too often I can’t get past the disorientation, past the upside-down nature of Jesus’ words to see the value that is there. But every time I do, I experience blessing and good life.
So today, may we all be like fighter pilots. May we push past the disorientation and upside-down nature of Jesus’ words. May we find blessing and the good life on the other side.
And may the kingdom of God be real in your little corner of the world.