Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The pushed and the grabbers

Luke 14:7-14

Jesus went to the Blues Festival, and he saw that many were trying to get the attention of their friends on or behind the stage to let them in. Jesus turned to those with him and said, “When you go to a concert, don’t try to get up on stage, or else a security person might come and throw you out because you are being disruptive. Instead, stand back, waiting, until your friend behind the stage sees you and says, ‘Hey, you want to come back here?’ and you will be escorted into the stage area. Even so, where God rules, everyone who grabs for what they want will be pushed back, and everyone who humiliates themselves will be welcomed up.”

Then Jesus said to the one who invited him, “If you go to a concert or have a party, don’t invite your friends or relatives or coworkers. Because they will just invite you to the next event, and so pay you back. Instead, invite the homeless and the handicapped, the impoverished, and people with social and mental disorders. Because they will never be able to pay you back and instead you will gain your repayment from God on the last day.”

Did Jesus go to concerts?

Nope. But he went to a lot of parties. Wherever he went there was a party, and all the best of the town were gathered to hear this famous bright star of Galilee. And Jesus gave these teachings at a party that he was invited to. In all probability, he insulted his hosts, as well as everyone who was invited. He saw people trying to get the best seats, and he unmasked their hidden agendas and told them that they were going about being the best in the room all the wrong way. Then he targeted his hosts and told them that they invited the wrong people. Yet, somehow, Jesus was still popular at these gatherings. You’d think that he would have preached in the wilderness more often.

What’s wrong with wanting to be noticed?

Absolutely nothing. Jesus wanted to be noticed himself. He wasn’t saying that getting the best seats is a bad thing. He was saying that pushing to be noticed is the wrong way to go about it. If you want to get someone’s attention, Jesus says, just whisper. In other words, the way to be important is to put yourself in a ridiculously humiliating position. Most people go straight for the jugular and if they want to be noticed, they do something to get noticed. They hang out with the “right” people, they grease palms, they do favors for those who will do them back. These are the people who figure the way to get up the ladder of success, you need to do something significant so those above you would pull you up.

Again, Jesus didn’t say that achieving success isn’t a good goal. But he is articulating his principle about how to achieve success—If you want to be successful, be a failure first. If you want to be famous, look to be anonymous. If you want to be wealthy, give away everything you have. Is this some sort of mystic principle, or is it actually practical? Jesus actually understands everyone’s sense of justice. If someone is unjustly lowered by society, many within society wishes to bring them up to where they “should” be, or even higher to make up for the low position. But if someone strives for the heights, everyone says, “Who does this guy think he is?” and they push him down.

Getting God’s attention

And this isn’t just a human principle. It is the same with God. God has established a system of justice on the earth, and he wants everyone to get what they deserve. The hard working and righteous should get the best, while the immoral and cheaters should get the worst in life. But what happens when the innocent get the worst out of life? This happens all too often, of course. The best, the brightest of humanity are never heard from. The most talented and most self-sacrificial aren’t ever paid attention to because they didn’t do what the world says and “push themselves.” And many who are innocent and righteous receive the worst treatment from people. But God doesn’t accept this. In fact, He says that He pays more attention to those who don’t get what they deserve. The rest of the world settles itself, but God settles injustice (Exodus 22:21-27; I Samuel 2:8-10; Psalm 37).

So what does God see as His most important work on earth? To pull up the deserving lowly, and to push down the undeserving significant. To welcome the righteous poor and to trip up the self-righteous rich. God doesn’t do miracles for those who don’t need it—he reserves them for people who are desperate and dependant on Him. God doesn’t judge the mediocre bad—he reserves judgment for those who claim to be His but destroy His lowly and His reputation.

Raised, Humbled

Jesus stated the basic principle like this: The lowly get raised and the raised gets lowered. The first shall be last and the last first. When he made these statements, he applied it in very many different contexts:

The repentant receive God’s welcome, while the self-righteous receive God’s rejection. (Luke 18:9-12)

The sinners get an opportunity for afresh start with God, while the already righteous don’t need Jesus. (Mark 2)

The down and out get welcomed into the kingdom, while the invited are out in the cold. (Luke 14:23-24)

Those who seem unrighteous now may get God’s reward (just under the wire) and get the same reward as those who have served God for a long time (Matthew 20)

The one who surrenders all he has to the poor will get God’s kingdom, while God reserves the worst punishments for those who take away from the needy for their own gain. (Luke 12:33; Luke 16)

The one who wants political importance must suffer and possibly die at the hands of the powerful and God will replace the government with the ones who were oppressed (Mark 12)

I’m on the Top—What do I do?

Jesus gives three suggestions to those who are on the top of the heap, the head of the party, the famous, rich and healthy. He says, first of all, welcome the lowly to the club. Make sure that you have the needy people you know welcomed as people who are your equals—invite them to your parties, give them the best seats, let them be your friends. Secondly, Jesus says that those who have greater resources must give their resources to the needy. If you’ve got extra, don’t give it to people who can give you more now, but give it to people who can’t repay you—that way God will do the repayment. Thirdly, Jesus said that to receive God’s full blessing, you must be the lowly. You must accept persecution, suffering, and even poverty, crying out only to God for release. He may or may not release you immediately, but if you stick with God, he will give you the greater reward.

I’m On the Bottom, and it Sucks!

But the good thing about being the insignificant, the poor, the outcast, the persecuted is that you are already (at least) halfway to where God wants you to be! If now you can just dependably cry out to Him, seeking his help and never turning your back on Him—even if it means that you have to suffer more for sticking up for God—then God will give you more than you could ever ask for. He will give you a family to replace the one that rejected you. He will give you a home to replace the one you lost. He will give you an income that will replace your lost employment. He will give you peace where yours is all gone.

Allow yourself to be humiliated and depend on God and He will give you more than you ever asked!


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