How to be rich, satisfied, happy and respected
For Christmas we were given a game. You are given the first part of a sentence and then told to guess what are the most common internet searches that begin with those words.
So, for instance, ..
Well, what would you think would be the most common internet searches that begin with the words, How can I be .. ?
Answer: (Become) rich, happy
Jesus speaks in our reading about those two things - and he adds two others, that I suspect are pretty high on the search ratings: satisfied and respected.
These are four of the things that we aspire for, that we think are worth living for.
The pursuit of wealth and riches
The pursuit of the satisfaction of our physical and emotional desires
The pursuit of happiness
And the pursuit for respect and honour.
I think that last one is often underestimated, and yet I wonder if it might not actually be number one on many of our lists. For the sake of respect, people put up with poverty, deprivation and possibly even a bit of misery. Just think of the athlete going out every morning to train, putting themselves through hell, in order to stand a chance to be picked for the team.
But Jesus, as always, turns the values of this world on their head.
First of all - I hadn’t noticed this before - Jesus ‘looked up’ at his disciples.
I know that was the traditional position for a teacher at the time, and it was about status and respect. Citizens stood while the ruler sat.
But the ruler usually sat on a throne that was raised up, so that she or he could look down at their subjects - whereas here, Jesus is seated and looks up at his followers.
There is something very attractive about a teacher who looks up at those he or she is teaching. It means that they are not standing over their student, and it means that the pupil has the power - power to look down on the teacher, the power to walk away.
I’m too vulnerable to do that. I would feel very uncomfortable if I took a chair and put it there and started to preach, especially if you were all standing. It certainly goes against all the advice of those books which speak about the power of body language (I was looking through one in a bookshop here about the hand gestures that President Putin uses): and I doubt that there is one that suggests that you should sit at the feet of your pupil!
But Jesus turns us upside down.
Jesus here in Luke 6 speaks to his followers, to his disciples. V20: ‘Then he looked up at his disciples and said ..’
They were not rich.
Some of them may have been rich. There were a couple of brothers, James and John, who had given up what appears to be a solid family fishing business; Another follower, Matthew, had given up a dodgy but very lucrative tax business. And now - now they have nothing. They’re following Jesus as he teaches and heals, and they have no guaranteed source of income. They are dependent on what others give to them.
And that meant that yes there would have been times when they went hungry. There would have been days when they did not know where the next meal was coming from. Who knows, even as Jesus speaks now, they’re thinking, ‘I could really do with something to eat’.
And I guess they were not necessarily happy.
Following Jesus could be quite scary. There were times when crowds threatened Jesus, when madmen tried to beat them up, when the authorities were looking to arrest them. There were times when they were scared witless by storms, or even by Jesus when he walked on water. And they often didn’t begin to understand what Jesus was doing, why he did what he did and why he went when he went where he went. And then Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned and crucified. And as their dreams shattered - they must have wept.
And they were rejected by many because they followed Jesus. They were ignored and mocked. Their sanity, their decency, their honour, their loyalty to family, faith and country were all brought into question.
They were told that they were the pits - the gunk on the bottom that is left when you’ve taken the leaking bag out of the rubbish bin.
And yet despite that, Jesus looks up at his followers and says:
‘Blessed are you who are poor’
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now’
‘Blessed are you who weep now’
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you and revile you .. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy.’
How upside down can you get?
And Jesus continues with words which really should shake us.
And remember that Jesus is not standing over these people shaking his finger at them: ‘Woe to you ..’. No, he is sitting below them and he is saying: ‘Woe, alas, how sad it will be for you’
Woe to you who are rich - the world tells you that you are somebody, that you are important, that you deserve all the good things in life – and woe to you who makes becoming rich the goal of your life.
Woe to you who satisfy all your desires now, or who seek to satisfy them now.
Woe to you who think that life is about being happy and should be one big party
That is now so deeply engrained into our culture that it is almost something that you cannot question.
Look at the difference between family photographs of 70 or 80 years ago and photos now. Then everybody looked serious. You were showing the world that you took life seriously. Now, you are told to smile - even if you don’t want to smile. You’re meant to show the world that you are having fun.
Woe to you if everybody speaks well of you.
Look, says Jesus, the world loves the world. Think of the false prophets. They preached what people wanted to hear. ‘You are going to be rich, victorious, happy and respected. And God will give it to you because God loves you!’ And the people loved it. They lapped it up. They went up to the prophet after the service and said, ‘that was a great sermon’.
But Jesus is the teacher who sits at our feet and he turns everything upside down.
He is not saying that those desires for abundance and satisfaction and happiness and respect are not important. They are.
Rather he is saying that if you are looking to seek to satisfy those desires here and now, and if you are blind to God and to his Kingdom, then whatever you gain here will be lost there.
But that if you seek to live for him, and for his Kingdom, and to put that first, then you may well not get those things here and now, but you will be blessed because you will have them in abundance then.
If you put your faith in Jesus, if you choose to follow him and start to live for him, for the Kingdom of God, and if you allow the Holy Spirit to come into you – to change you, to change your way of thinking, to change your desires - then you will realise and discover that life is not about getting or being rich here, or satisfying all our desires here, or being happy here or even being respected here. You will realise that there is something so much more precious to live for.
You don’t need to live for or be controlled by money.
On one occasion a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at that man, and saw someone so earnest, so wanting to do right. But he also saw someone who was trapped by his money. And he loved him. So he told him, ‘Sell all you have, give to the poor, and become one of my followers’.
You don’t always need to pamper your physical or emotional desires: think of Jesus in the wilderness. He had fasted and he was hungry, and then the devil comes and tells him to turn stones into bread. And Jesus answers, ‘Human beings do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God’. If we choose to follow Jesus we will discover that there is an even deeper craving in us than the craving for food – and only God can satisfy that craving.
You don’t need to be happy. In fact, if you allow the Holy Spirit to come and live in you, and if you begin to love, to love as God loves, then there will be many times when you are not happy. You will weep. You will weep for yourself and you will weep for others and you will weep for the brokenness of this world.
And if you choose to come to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will change you – yes, it will take a long time – but you will begin to realise that what other people think of you, whether they respect you or treat you with contempt, really does not matter. What matters is what the One who created you and who loves you thinks of you. What matters is that on that day of judgement when each one of us will stand in front of him, he will look at us – with love in his eyes – and say, ‘well done you good and faithful servant’.