Our book group is discussing "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard, which is driving me to look at the sermon on the mount in a deeper way. I posted this reflection on the book group blog to lead us into chapter 5:
Jesus has my number!
That’s what I think as I read again Luke’s account of the “sermon on the plain.” (Luke 6:17-49) Compared to Matthew’s encyclopedic account of Jesus’ teaching, Luke presents the radio mix, the summary for short attention spans. And immediately it jumps out at me:
Jesus has my number!
Luke’s gospel is built around the idea that God is turning the tables on the world-as-we-know-it and on self-satisfied “religion.” And it’s a story of Jesus being misunderstood, not meeting anyone’s expectations, right from the start. His parents don’t get why he would stay riveted at the feet of the temple’s teachers. John doesn’t get that he actually needs to be baptized. His friends and neighbors don’t get how he could have a new interpretation of a familiar prophecy. Those who actually see him expel a demon can’t figure it out. The healed crowds don’t get there are other sick for him to go to. The Pharisees don’t get – well, ok, condemn – his table companions and his view of the Sabbath.
Jesus consistently disappoints the conventional wisdom (which is always the former and rarely the latter). The pundits of his day would have put his name next to a big down arrow on the CW watch, and said something like this:
\/ Jesus. Knows his law inside and out, but following it? Not so much. And his dinner companions leave a lot to be desired.
Not exactly a candidate for high priest.
Really, only Mary, who overcomes her intitial shock to embrace Gabriel’s message, gets it. And the devil, who respects that Jesus has a deep understanding of God’s message – not superficial like so many of the religious folks he deals with – and withdraws to find another way. Oh, and the shepherds in the field, whose expectations are so low that any news is good news.
But misunderstood as he is, Jesus understands them all.
And it scares me how well he understands me.
Jesus knows that I’d like to think I have it made and my worries are over. That I’m pretty satisfied with myself sometimes, and like it best when I have “control” in at least some circumstances. He knows that given half a chance I run from suffering without looking back. That I can "go along to get along." And if someone takes advantage of me, I am so not into helping them use me further.
Jesus has my number!
I know I can lead worship or teach or pray publicly and then turn around and snap at one of my kids. I can find fault with the best of them, and I’m no stranger to expecting the worst from people. I’ll tell you I don’t expect something back from my giving, but I want it to “make a difference” (in my eyes, on my time), and I think it ought to count for something. Jesus knows, too.
Jesus’ teachings from the plain (or the mount, in Matthew) show that it’s not our world that is reality, but God’s kingdom. Dallas Willard says that these teachings prove that Jesus is brilliant, and I think he’s right. Jesus has both real, deep, intimate experience with that flawed thing we call human nature and a clear-eyed appreciation for what really matters – the reign of God. But this is not theological insight divorced from real life, not psycho-babble, not control disguised as orthodoxy.
Jesus is divinity shining through real humanity. He’s authentic, he’s with people, he’s focused on wholeness and healing, not making people feel worse. His authority is so real that he doesn’t need to impose it except on demons and religious leaders (interesting combination, don’t you think?). No wonder crowds surge toward him, longing to connect with the energy that radiates from him.
If I’m going to be known, this is the guy I want to know me.
Jesus proves in these brief paragraphs that he sees past all our masks and good intentions. He can repeat all the lies we tell ourselves before they escape our lips. But does he condemn us – condemn me?
No. Jesus’s response isn’t to lecture, or to exclude, or to feel better at our expense. He doesn’t whack anybody over the head with a Torah scroll. He shows us, in ways we can’t deny, that he knows we miss the mark; and he knows that we know that. He explains and models a better way to cope with our less than ideal reality. He doesn’t tell us what to think, he shows us how to live.
Luke dutifully scribes all of Jesus’ teaching for his audience of outsiders. But he leaves in a few delightfully telling details about how this master class goes down. As Jesus and the disciples settle on the plain, crowds press in on them, delirious for the healing and wholeness that they have heard that he brings. Gigawatts of God’s power flow out of him, and Luke tells us that every one of them was healed.
Before Jesus ever utters a syllable about living generously and pouring one’s life out for others – he does it.
He keeps doing it, right to the cross.
He’s still doing it.
Jesus, help me to watch what you’re doing. And do it, too.