“My hope is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him. In his case, quite frankly, presumed familiarity has led to unfamiliarity, unfamiliarity has led to contempt, and contempt has led to profound ignorance.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
My very favorite words of Scripture are the red letters; the words that Jesus, himself, spoke. We’re studying through the gospel of Luke on Sunday mornings at my church, and it is always so centering to read the teaching and actions of Jesus. They are so deep and provocative. They often leave me with more questions than answers, but the questions are somehow more satisfying. The layers just keep going deeper and deeper.
I can imagine that his disciples, his inner circle, never quite knew what to expect when an audience drew near. He might heal on the Sabbath, breaking the rules, or claim to have authority like King David. He’d controversially touch lepers and hang out with women with bad reputations. Occasionally he’d even overturn the tables in the temple.
Many of his followers thought he was trying to pick a fight. And they were all in. They loved it. They were insurgents. They couldn’t wait to go to war. And when they found out this wasn’t the goal they were heart broken. They thought they were starting an alternative kingdom. A lateral move. A course readjustment, when in fact, Jesus was calling for something entirely new. Not just revolution, but evolution. New wine. And it was still fermenting. Expanding. And the old ways were going to burst, like old, cracked wineskins.
Jesus preached a new kingdom, an eternal one. It wasn’t one to be pursued. No, instead it was coming towards you. It was drawing near. The questions was, would you open up to it? Would you trust it? Surrender to it? Let it have its way?
This kingdom begins in the heart. That is soil where the kingdom is planted and grows. And it expands outward. It pours out like wine. It shines like light through the cracks. It grows like a tree. And the fruit of this kingdom is deeply generous. It is filled with peace. It is gentle but filled with courage.
It leads with weakness instead of strength. The leaders serve. The greatest seek to remain at the margins and not vie for attention at the center. In other words, this kingdom is backwards. It is upside down. If it isn’t right, it is foolishness. If it isn’t true, it is absurd.
Jesus says blessed are the hungry. The unsatisfied. The ones who are suffering. Why, because in their discontent, they are looking for more. In their craving, they just might see past the illusions of worldly contentment and notice the fact that their hearts are longing for something more. Something more than ‘likes’ and staying forever young. Something more permanent than a moment of snapchat glory. Something solid. Something that will last.
According to Jesus, the ones to be pitied are those that are full and content. Those of us that are comfortable. Who have a little extra put aside for a rainy day. Who have found a comfortable rhythm and are slowing growing numb to the fact that our lives are meant for so much more.
Because the kingdom is continuing to expand. And today, it can feel like the church is as invested in worldly comfort as anyone. Maybe even more so. It feels like we’ve lost our way. And instead of going to war, we need to expand. To evolve. To grow.
And this growth must be towards generosity. Towards compassion. We must see our world’s problems as our own. We must respond in compassion. This is the kingdom. This is the challenge. This is the invitation.
As we study these words, my prayer is that the old ways in me can soften. That my heart will not resist, but grow. That I’m willing to yield control and comfort for the sake of others in need. And trust the fact that a meaningful life is not something we grasp today, but invest in for tomorrow.