When I am confused or concerned about something that has happened, I often seek to understand it comparatively within a broader context. And this is not merely my competitiveness running amuck. I simply want to grasp whether the situation at hand is within the range of typical results or expectations.
For example, after my several knee surgeries, the second and third days were rather … ugh … unpleasant, brutal even. And I’m OK with that, if that is the way it is supposed to be. But if it not supposed to be that bad, then I’m going to be really concerned. I just need calibration.
Or another example: occasionally one of the boys would come home from taking a big test at school and give a rather concerned, negative report as to how well they thought they performed. Maybe they were surprised at the content and what was an unusual emphasis upon something they deemed to be of minor import. And I would invariable ask what other students were saying about the test. Did they have the same take on it? If so, maybe the result won’t be so bad. But if everyone else was raving about how easy was the exam, then I’m getting concerned. It’s about seeking calibration.
As followers of Christ, it is helpful to have some calibration on living this life in a fallen, sinful, imperfect world. And that is what we have in today’s passage from the basic content of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples (not just the 12, but the large crowd that followed him). This section is often called the “blessings and woes.” It teaches that the bad things aren’t as bad as they seem, nor are the good things as good as they seem; and all of that is because there is a bigger picture than just this world.
One can be blessed and have inner contentment and happiness even in the context of problems like poverty, hunger and sadness. This is because all of these things are temporary and the reward in the kingdom of God is so much greater and eternal. These issues will pass away, and God’s enabling strength is sufficient to endure them.
As well, when the people of this world persecute Christ’s followers in words and deeds, this too should not throw one off of the path of feeling blessed. If fact, it is rather normal behavior when calibrated in light of the big picture of things. Not only is this true in Christ’s day and in the ages to follow of those who name Jesus as Lord, this was the experience of godly people in the past – such as the prophets in Israel who were persecuted for their faithfulness in proclaiming truth. It has always been this way, but great is the reward in the kingdom for those who endure and persevere.
On the flipside, for those who trust in earthly measurements of success and thereby reject the message of Christ, they will find that their temporary riches, food abundance and merriment produced merely by the measurements of this world will not suffice in the long run. And being spoken of well is simply a repeat of the accolades given to the false prophets of the past.
How’s all of this for calibration? It is Jesus taking their minds and eyes away from the microscope to look rather at the majesty of the sky – the bigger picture that includes God’s kingdom.
There is timeless truth in this teaching. We daily read of the horrid persecution of Christians in other parts of the world. And as a class of people, we are not highly favored even here in America by the masses of the people in places of prominence. That’s OK; it is normal. Remember the bigger picture. You’re a child of the creator king!
Luke 6:17 – He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.