Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Lucky Dogs

Ah, the poor—you lucky dogs! Because you are the owners of God’s kingdom.
How lucky are those who are presently hungry—because God will make sure you have your fill.
How lucky are those who weep in this life—because God will make you laugh.
How lucky are you, my disciples, when people hate you. You are fortunate when they won’t have anything to do with you, when they call you names and tear down your reputation. When that happens—have a party! Jump for joy! Because you are lined up with great things from God. Because, you see, this is the way their type have always treated God’s prophets.
But you well off—I’m so sorry. You are getting all the good life you will ever get.
It’s so sad about you who eat well now, because God will make sure you will be hungry.
It’s so sad about you who are well entertained now, because God will make sure that you weep and grieve.
And you who have excellent reputations with everyone? Grieve, for that is how their type treated the false prophets.

To Get Lucky Like A Dog…
When Jesus spoke these words in Luke 6, it says that he was speaking to his disciples. These are his students who memorized his sayings and spoke his message to the populace around. Some of these folks were sincere in following Jesus, while some were in the business for the prestige of being close to Jesus, of using his name to push their own agenda. Here, we see that Jesus fully recognizes that some of his disciples he fully approved of, while others he felt were compromisers. And the compromisers would receive none of the blessings.

…You’ve Got to Get Treated Like One
The true disciples, say Jesus, are the anawim—the poor, the humble, the humiliated, the outcast. They are the ones who, as a result of preaching the gospel that Jesus gave them, end up in poverty, in hunger, in sorrow and completely disregarded. These are the true followers of Jesus, the true recipients of the kingdom of God.

It’s just not fair!
But why? Why should the true followers of Jesus suffer in this way? Well, let’s face it, Jesus’ reputation is mixed. In his day he was known as a great healer and as a heretic teacher. Today he is connected to both mercy and fundamentalism. He is seen as both a wonderful teacher and a religious fanatic. In this way, a person can use the name of Jesus to get ahead, or they can be attached to Jesus and obtain infamy.

What Jesus is saying is to recognize that He is both loved and universally hated. Those who really know Jesus are, at the least, uncomfortable around Him. Some truly despise him—especially those who want to uphold the standards of this age, who see the world as fundmentally good, but needing a few minor changes. We must remember that Jesus is speaking about a complete overhaul of the world—the mechanical equivalent of replacing the engine. Jesus says, “It can’t be fixed! Just scrap the whole world system and start over!”

So those who truly are saying that which Jesus says will be hated as well. Jesus says, “If they hated me, they will hate you as well.” But not everyone who speaks Jesus’ name or words is hated. Why? Because they change Jesus’ fundamental message into a lighter, more palatable affair. Perhaps they do this because they want a hearing, or because they want to get ahead in the world as it exists. But Jesus states clearly that those who speak His gospel without compromise will be rejected.

Persecution promise
Jesus’ promise for his disciples is persecution. It isn’t a possibility, it isn’t a suggestion, it isn’t even a command. It is a promise. If we truly follow Jesus, live his life and speak his message, we will be persecuted. Now some say, “But I’ve followed Jesus in all the ways I can, but I’ve never been persecuted! Am I going to hell?” Okay, now slow down. Often we have a bigger idea of persecution than Jesus has in mind. We don’t need to be beaten or martyred to be persecuted, although that is a good indication of it.

Jesus has two parts to his concept of persecution. First of all, we need to be rejected in some way. We might be rejected by beatings, or we could be rejected by people refusing to talk to us. People could see us and walk the other way. People might scoff whenever our name is brought up. They might call us names behind our back. All of these actions are types of persecution, types of rejection, as well as being arrested, beaten and killed.

Jerks for Jesus
The second aspect of persecution, according to Jesus is that we must be persecuted for living out or talking about the gospel of Jesus. The true persecution is rejection we receive due directly to our commitment to Jesus.

A lot of people think that they are truly following Jesus because they have been persecuted for Him, when in reality they have been persecuted because they acted like an idiot in public. If you act hatefully, if you yell at people, if you are a stalker for Jesus, if you do other things for Jesus that makes you a jerk (that He didn’t specifically command), then you aren’t being persecuted for Jesus. You are being hated because you are acting inappropriately. Paul’s statement, “Speak the truth in love” is too often ignored by Christians seeking to please Jesus by being persecuted. We are to be rejected because of the message of Jesus, not because of how we deliver that message. If we speak the message of Jesus in a way that could be received, and then we are rejected, then we are being persecuted. But if we are a jerk for Jesus, then we are not receiving the persecution Jesus promised us.

Suffering for Fun and Profit
Another thing Jesus mentions in this passage about persecution is that it should be one of the best things that ever happen to us. Once we are rejected and openly hated for speaking Jesus’ word, we should be happy! We should celebrate and have a party—assuming that anyone shows up, of course. This seems like an odd reaction—and actually it is one of the more difficult commands of Jesus to follow. “Okay, I’ve just been rejected by my parents and my best friend… and so I’m supposed to call people up and say—‘oh, isn’t it cool?’”

It is difficult, but it has a logic to it. Persecution is like a baptism (in fact, the early Anabaptist reformers called it the “baptism of fire”)—it is an initiation rite. When we get persecuted for Jesus’ sake, it is an assurance of our salvation. Yes, Jesus recognizes that rejection isn’t fun, but we can truly rejoice if we know that this persecution is our guarantee of God’s approval! So there are three kinds of initiation that we should celebrate—our baptism, our first communion and our first persecution. Actually, we SHOULD have persecution parties!

Tom Hanks Need Not Apply
Finally, there are those who do not get persecuted. We need to remember that Jesus is speaking to those who were following Him. They have repented from their sins, some of them have sacrificed their possessions for Jesus. But Jesus is saying that sacrificing as a business investment just doesn’t work. We need to recognize that our lot in life in doing the ministry of Jesus isn’t a nice salary, a good car and a comfortable lifestyle. Rather, living for Jesus is a promise of poverty, hunger and rejection. Perhaps not everyone lives this way all the time, but some do and the other followers of Jesus recognize that this is the path that Jesus laid out for all of us. If we use Jesus as a means to become a “professional” or to live the “good life” or to obtain the American dream, then we are not following Jesus at all. We are being a hypocrite.

To follow Jesus is to be rejected for Jesus.

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