Read Luke 6:24-26
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. (Matthew 7:13 NRSV)
We all have an idealistic image of Jesus in our heads, do we not? Growing up, we who grew up in the church learned about a Jesus who loves us, who welcomes us, who loves all the little children, and who came to save the world from hate and evil. We learned of a cheery, jovial man who was no ordinary human, but the Son of God; what’s more, Jesus was God in the flesh. We also learned how sinful people rejected Jesus’ message of love and crucified him to a cross, following extensive torture, and left him there to die. Of course the story doesn’t end there, as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after appearing to his many disciples.
This just about summarizes our Sunday School/Church understanding of Jesus. It just about sums up every movie that has been created about him, and it sums up what I believe to be wholly an American Jesus who gives us eternity but asks nothing of us in return. This, in essence, is a cheap Jesus who presents to a us a cheap grace.
Don’t get me wrong, the summary is true in that Jesus does love us, welcome us and calls us to follow him. It is true that Jesus came to save us and that people rejected his message of love. But the reason people rejected his message of love, is because it often did not feel so loving. I guess one could say that Jesus’ love was often tough, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible for people to subscribe to.
In Luke’s account of the beatitudes, we get a picture perfect example of Jesus’ tough love. Following the blessings he pronounces on the poor, Jesus hauls off on the rich, cursing them to a series of four “woes” or afflictions. He does this to drive home the message of the four beatitudes, that God stands in solidarity with the poor and will show them partiality when these eschatological (judgment day) blessings take place.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26 NRSV). Yikes! Remember, Jesus is not speaking this to strangers, nor to his enemies; rather, Jesus is speaking this directly to his disciples!!
No doubt, there were disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; 18:28); however, there were also those who had not given up everything. Jesus’ teaching of God’s blessing on the impoverished, as well as his teaching of God’s judgment upon the rich, was meant to be a warning that God’s Kingdom is the ONLY thing we should be seeking to attain. Jesus is also clear elsewhere that one cannot serve two masters, that one will either serve God or they will serve materialistic gain (Luke 16:13 NRSV).
Again, if there was a way to soften this message and remain true to what Jesus is teaching here, I would; however, softening it only serves to add more sugar coating to the idol we continue to build up and name Jesus. Jesus’ message, as hard as it was in his time for people to hear, is really hard for us to hear. A majority of us in America claim to believe in God, and a majority of those who do claim to be Christian in one form or another; however, how many of us Christians really put God/Jesus first and foremost in our lives, foresaking all else in the process? That’s a tall order and most of us, myself included, fall very short of that!
Thank God that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have the final say on what Jesus taught and/or meant by his teachings; however, we should NOT shrug it off as being irrelevant either. Luke’s Gospel gives us the bitter truth, as hard as it is to swallow, that we are not always aligned with God. What’s more, woe to us who think we are only to find out we never were (Matthew 7:13, 23; Luke 16:19-31 NRSV).
Luke rightfully has us pause and reflect on where we are in our relationship with God, a humility we should be daily embracing. Rather than viewing these woes as personal attacks against our faith, our lifestyles, and/or our wealth, we should be humbled by them and view them as true blessings in our lives. Why, you ask? Because they point us to the way, the truth, and the life and serve as a guide to keep us on the long and narrow road that leads to the Kingdom of God. Christ is teaching us of what our priorities should be, that they should be aligning with the priorities of God. If we heed that warning, we will be the “richer” for it.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…what has cost God so much cannot be cheap for us.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Lord, fill me with humility so that I may see how I need to change in order to truly follow you. Amen.