Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blast From the Past: Who Gets In?

There's new stuff coming. I promise. In the meantime, here is something I wrote on June 14, 2010.

Yesterday, we were discussing the Beatitudes in our gathering. When I was growing up, I was taught that the Beatitudes were characteristics of people during the future millennial kingdom. Later, the idea that they were traits that would make us blessed if we cultivated them. In the last couple of years, I've come to believe that neither of these ways of seeing the Beatitudes hits the mark. The first way essentially ignores the teachings of Jesus, or relegates some of them to a time far off in the future, missing the point of the Gospels. The second way turns the Beatitudes into "9 Steps to a Blessed Life," making them another thing we have to do.

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard makes the point that if we look at the context of Jesus' ministry and the context of the passage, we see that what Jesus is doing is announcing the availability of the Kingdom of God to those were seen as having no chance to enter. The prevailing opinion in first century Judea was that wealth and status were signs of God's favor, and poverty was a sign of sin and disfavor. Sounds like our culture today, doesn't it? Jesus traveled the length and breadth of the land announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and then taught that this kingdom was open to everyone who would follow him, whether or not they fit the image of a righteous person.

Look at the folks who flocked to Jesus. Those on the bottom rung of the ladder, even those who couldn't reach the ladder. The very ones who were called sinners by the religious leaders were the ones Jesus ate and drank with. It was these people who were invited into the Kingdom, and the only requirement was that they follow Jesus and learn his way. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers that it is not those on the top of the heap who have been called. It is those who are not the best and brightest.

Jesus time on earth turned the entire established religious order upside down. Those who thought they had their kingdom membership card already validated were told that they were wrong, and those who thought that they were hopeless were told that the Kingdom was open to them. Even after Jesus told the people that their righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees, they continued to follow him because they recognized his authority.

When we stand before the Father at the restoration of all things, how surprised will we be at who is there? How many will be surprised that we are there? We should not presume to think we know who is a follower of Jesus. He is still in the business of turning expectations upside down.

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