Is it just me, or is everyone convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong? For uncertain times there sure is a lot of certitude. How are we supposed to be sure of anything when everyone seems so sure of everything yet can agree on nothing? Our Scripture Focus today will help us find our way.
In today’s Scripture Focus Jesus challenged two things that many people were certain about.
First, Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works.
Then looking up at His disciples, He said:
You who are poor are blessed,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
You who are now hungry are blessed,
because you will be filled.
You who now weep are blessed,
because you will laugh…
But woe to you who are rich,Luke 6:20,21,24,25 (HCSB)
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing,
for you will mourn and weep.
It was well known in those days that if you obeyed God, things would go well for you and you would be blessed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Therefore the assumption was that the rich, the well-fed, the happy were obviously those who were well deserving of God’s blessings. The poor, the hungry, the unhappy, were obviously those who didn’t deserve God’s blessings. Many people think this way today.
Jesus challenged all that; “Blessed are the poor.” Discerning who is blessed by God and who is not goes way beyond merely looking at who seems to be doing well in life right now. There is something much deeper going on. That is not how God works.
So how did everyone get it wrong and could they have have done better?
The prevailing understanding seems to lean heavily on the Book of Deuteronomy where we find lists of blessings and curses for God’s people. If the people as a nation obeyed God, they would be blessed, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Jesus spoke about blessings and woes he was probably intending for people to make that connection with Deuteronomy. Yet what he said was very different, and challenged their assumptions.
Assumptions could have been challenged earlier if people paid more attention to other parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job. The Book of Job is a rather long drama that asks the question, why do good people suffer while bad people flourish? The Book of Job is not really about the about the answer to that question but rather the validity of that question. It challenges the notion that you can tell if a person is blessed by God by looking at whether they are winning in life or not. Look around, good people sometimes do suffer, evil people sometimes do flourish. Perhaps the conclusions people jumped to by reading Deuteronomy could have been challenged by looking wider and being challenged by Job before being challenged by Jesus.
Looking wider and becoming aware of other viewpoints is key for us today as we navigate this era of certitude.
We can dig deep on any given topic, but we also must look around. As we do so, we are not seeking more reasons to stick to our guns, but greater wisdom, insight, and understanding, allowing our assumptions to be challenged. Doing so may or may not lead us to change our minds, but either way it will allow us to better understand the minds of others.
Some people think they are digging deep, doing research on a topic, but what that looks like is reading article after article that are written from the same perspective, that start from the same assumptions, that support the same conclusions. We call this being in an echo chamber where every voice is echoing the same thing. Sometimes our choice of echo chamber is based on wanting to hear from “experts” what we would want to say if we were the experts. Sometimes digging deeper just gets you into a bigger hole that is harder to get out of. We also need to look around. Other voices are important. We need the conclusions we jump to by reading Deuteronomy to be challenged by reading Job.
Think of how much better this world would be if we all let our assumptions be challenged, if we all sought wisdom, insight, and deep understanding rather than simply seeking confirmation of what we think we know.
Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works, about how life works. As a matter of prayer we might want to pause and ask the Lord to challenge us about our assumptions and whatever false conclusions we may have arrived at, or been pushed into.
Second, Jesus challenged the assumption that he, Jesus, was not from God.
You are blessed when people hate you,
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man. [i.e. Jesus]
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets…
Woe to youLuke 6:22,23,26 (HCSB emphasis added)
when all people speak well of you,
for this is the way their ancestors
used to treat the false prophets.
Here Jesus pointed out how former generations had got it wrong. They often persecuted the true prophets who were from God, and rewarded the false prophets who were not.
When the religious leaders heard Jesus they were operating with a big assumption, namely, that anyone coming from God would live, teach, and act according to their understanding of the Scriptures. So, anyone healing on a Sabbath, something Jesus was prone to do, was obviously not from God. Jesus said and did many other things that got under their skin. Their attitude was: “Jesus can’t possibly be from God if he does not look, act, and think, just like we do.”
There was at least one religious leader who managed to challenge that assumption:
There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “ Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”John 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, likely in secret because his openness to Jesus would not have gone over well with the other Pharisees. How many of us keep our thoughts secret out of fear of people jumping all over us for challenging assumptions?
Nicodemus was willing to allow his assumptions, as a Pharisee, to be challenged. And it was to Nicodemus that those most famous of words were said:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.John 3:16 (NRSV)
Some scholars see this verse, and those that follow, not as the words of Jesus, but as the writer’s comment on the important things Jesus said to Nicodemus. Nevertheless, do our assumptions keep us from hearing about God’s love for the world and for us? Assumptions like “miracles don’t happen,” “Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead because people don’t rise from the dead,” or “The Bible is just all made up stories.”
Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about Jesus, God, God’s grace and love, and God’s kingdom? Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths that lead us to life, to the Giver of life? Might assumptions keep those of us who follow Jesus from following more closely?
Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about people and the way things work? It might be assumptions around mental health, race relations, viruses and vaccines. We might have assumptions about Muslims, atheists, Christians, truckers, health care workers, youth, seniors, people who are LGBTQ+, politicians, and yes, pastors. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “you are a pastor and you ride a motorcycle?”!
Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about their beliefs about whether or not he, Jesus, was from God. Perhaps we should pause and ask if Jesus would challenge our assumptions about who he is and he is about. While we are at it, perhaps we should challenge the assumptions we make about everyone else too. And then there are the assumptions we make about ourselves.
In our society today there are many deeply held convictions. Deeply held convictions are no guarantee of deep insight. As we allow our assumptions to be challenged, as we listen to other voices, it will make a big difference. Let us be wise, seeking insight, knowledge, and understanding, on anything and everything, and of everyone, including ourselves. Let us especially seek insight where it matters most, about God and God’s love for us in Christ.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)