C. Escher is an artist whose drawings challenge the mind just by looking at them. I have one here of architectural impossibilities so you can see what I mean. One thing that stands out is the water which just keeps going round and round without ever getting higher or lower it seems on the same level. Stairs that go every which way but at the same time, go nowhere. Escher’s drawings always evoke a double-take. You look at them, and they seem okay, but then it begins to dawn on you that something is not right with the picture. Things are not as they seem. Our world appears like this, we think it is normal; but it is not normal; it is not right. It is not the way God intended. Everything is upside-down and backwards.
Christ reveals this in today’s Gospel. He challenges everything that people think is normal and flips it upside down to show how things really are from God’s perspective, and how they will be in eternity. Because of this, each of His statements are shocking, each is a jolt of reality in our twisted world. Jesus has just finished choosing twelve apostles from among His disciples, and now He heals the multitudes, before he turns to teaching.
Jesus’ healing ability was drawn from the power of the Holy Spirit at work through Him. His close, intimate connection with the Father, as revealed through spending all night in prayer, was another factor that allowed Jesus to heal the thousands on that day. Notice that it is not just some that were healed, but everyone who was sick as power went out from Jesus. There is no discussion here about their faith, or the amount of faith they do or do not have, Jesus simply and completely healed all who needed it.
In His teaching Christ never intended to give people what they want to hear, but to give them instead what they need to hear. Although his miracles and healings and free meals had attracted great multitudes of people, He did not try to give them what he thought they wanted to hear. He gave them the hard truth – that following Him would be a tough road. Jesus spoke of poverty, hunger, and persecution as blessings, and of wealth, being well-fed and favour as bringing a curse. He taught people to love their enemies, and not to retaliate. He taught that one should give to those in need, knowing that they would never be repaid. These are not very popular teachings. Yet He knew that it is better to speak the truth and not be popular than to speak lies and have everybody like Him.
This is what we see him doing in our Gospel today which contains four blessings and four woes. And it is in these blessings and woes that we run headlong into Christ’s upside-down world which is actually right side up. It would seem as though Jesus has said that all who are poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted are blessed; while all who are rich, well-fed, happy, and honoured are cursed. Is it a blessing to be poor, hungry, sorrowful, and rejected? Are all the hurting people of the world suddenly so fortunate, while all of the comfortable, happy people of the world are really cursed? No.
There is great cost in following Jesus, but the blessings are greater than the cost. This is what the eight statements reveal, they tell us what is entailed in being a true disciple of Christ. What he presents seems backwards and upside down, but this is the how all true disciples of Christ will appear in this world. So, let’s see what it really looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the Blessings and Woes set out in the Gospel this morning known as the Beatitudes. Four blessings; four woes. Each blessing has a counterpart woe, its exact opposite. The first blessing is upon the poor. The first woe is upon the rich. The second blessing is for the hungry. The second woe is for the full. The third blessing and third woe are related to weeping and laughter. The fourth blessing and fourth woe are about how we are viewed by other people of this earth.
In Christ’s time and in that part of the world, there were many poor and many sick, many outcasts and many afflicted. For some of them, this is just the way things are, but for others, these things happened to them because they decided to follow Jesus Christ. James and John, two of the Lord’s apostles who followed Jesus, turn their backs on a rich inheritance and become poor. Others, because they followed Jesus, would experience hardship and trials and persecution. They were hated and reviled and cast out and eventually killed for the sake of Jesus.
Any negative circumstance in your life can be a doorway to a greater blessing. Whether the negative circumstance has happened because you are a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, or just because bad things happen in life. We have all heard the saying “when one door closes another one opens.” It’s all about the condition or attitude of your heart. Do you trust God in your circumstances, or not? Whatever circumstances you find yourself in – trust God. I did and followed a path I never knew existed – not for me anyway.
If we are rich – fine, but don’t be greedy for more, and use your riches to help those who do not have as much. If you have plenty of food, great. Thank God for his provision, make sure that you are not wasteful or gluttonous, and if possible, feed others who are not quite as blessed. This is what Jesus is teaching. It is an upside-down world we live in and Jesus is trying to flip things back. We, as His disciples are to show the world what right side up living looks like. Be content with what you have and seek first the Kingdom of God. Sacrifices are a blessing when they lead to greater blessings, this is what Jesus is saying. Over the last 2 years it has felt like we’re living in Escher’s World, where everything is upside down or inside out. The pandemic has played with all our minds.
For a moment let’s think of God guiding our path by opening doors for us, but, He also shuts them: e.g when we don’t get that job, our child doesn’t make the team, or the deal on the new house falls through, our disappointment can leave us feeling discouraged. That’s when we can trust God to order and establish our steps. If you’re going through a period of obstacles, setbacks, and closed doors, remember the words from Psalm 119 -Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path. Whether He opens or closes doors, God delights in leading you down the path He has marked out for you. Even when obstacles cause you to stumble, He will hold your hand and steady your heart.
We pray: Heavenly Father, even when we don’t understand what you are doing in our lives, we praise you for your faithfulness and power. When we feel disappointed, we will remember your steadfast love. Help us to trust that you are ordering our steps according to your perfect plan. Thank you for the doors you open and for the doors you close. Comfort and strengthen our hearts today. Lord, take us by the hand and lead us down the path that you have chosen for us. Show us when it is time to wait and when we need to move ahead. Be sure to rest in God’s steadfast love today. Amen