CHALLENGES WE FACE TODAY
‘What is the biggest challenge we face today?’ It’s an age-old question, but it is being asked again with increasing frequency. And responses include: ‘terrorism’, ‘the economy’, ‘security’, ‘climate change’. It is one thing to identify the challenges but another to provide a solution.
Furthermore, from a biblical perspective, solutions will be different for governments and for the individual. Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 tell us that a primary responsibility of government is the well-being, safety and good order of society. It’s one reason we must pray for our leaders and upcoming elections (1 Timothy 2:1-6). But for the most part, the New Testament focuses on our deepest need and God’s new society – achieved through the declaration of the good news of his love and forgiveness.
When Jesus was asked the question, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ he responded, ”’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29ff).
These words go to the heart of the law of love – love for God and love for neighbor. The starting point is love for God; we are to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, and so on. It is this vertical axis of relationship – love for God – that our secular material world is missing. So it is encouraging that most people still agree that we are more than the sum of our physical parts.
Significantly, Jesus speaks to these two axes or dimensions of relationship – love for God and love for neighbor – in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-40). Here he speaks of ‘love for God’ in terms of blessings and woes.
‘Blessed are you poor’, he begins (Luke 6:20). While some insist that these words refer only to the literal ‘poor’, the context of Luke’s Gospel indicates the poor has a similar meaning to what we find in Matthew 5:3 where Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’.
He is not blessing poverty per se, for poverty can easily be a curse. Rather, his words are a reference to the spiritually poor, those who understand their impoverishment before God. He is speaking about anyone who knows, as Jeremiah puts it, that the (human) heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Trapped in the prison of our ego, we have no heart or love for God.
Indeed in Luke the imagery of the poor crosses the social boundaries of class, education, religious association, race, and nation. It is a metaphor for those who lack honor or glory before God.
While Simon Peter and Levi are not described as rich, they were not materially poor. Peter ran a fishing business with his brother and others; Levi was able to host a large dinner party. But both men understood they had a need only Jesus could address. Peter recognized that a deep gulf existed between himself and Jesus; Levi understood his own alienation. Both obeyed Jesus’ command to leave their businesses and follow him.
When we understand our need and turn to God, Jesus says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). The experience of God’s kingdom begins now – ‘yours is …’, he says.
In contrasting blessings and woes, Jesus turns on its head our way of looking at life. Society begrudgingly admires wealth, but Jesus says it is the poor, the hungry and those who weep who are blessed and will be blessed. By contrast, he says woe to the rich, the well-fed and those who laugh.
While the Bible does not condemn riches, food or laughter in themselves, Jesus points out elsewhere (Luke 18:24) that ‘it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God’. The rich, like the well-fed and those whose only aim in life is pleasure (laughter), fail to see there is more to life. Their successes and joys will be in this life only.
The final blessing is the climax to the blessings. God’s people will experience opposition in various ways – exclusion, suffering, persecution – because of their association with Jesus (6:22). “Rejoice in that day. Leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven,” Jesus says (6:23).Yet, how often are we silenced through political correctness?
More than ever we need to pray that God will speak into our minds and hearts through his Word so that we might know the joy of his blessing and, as opportunities arise, we might introduce him and his love and forgiveness into our conversations with others.
© John G. Mason