Some things Jesus was terrible at

Incipit to Luke
Incipit to Luke, Book of Kells

I’m doing some reading and writing on Luke 6 and particularly Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:17-49). A couple of excerpts from Luke:

Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man. (6:20-22)

And

But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (6:27-36)

What might you call the theology behind Jesus’ call to discipleship in the Sermon on the Plain?

An anti-success theology?

You are going to be poor, hungry, weeping and hated. This in contrast to being rich, comfortable, well-fed and well-respected (vv. 24-26). This is just slightly incompatible with the capitalist pursuit of wealth and happiness in the here and now.

A guarantee of suffering theology?

Enemies may, and probably will, do their very worst to you. Be ready for it.

A very-delayed gratification theology?

Blessings are promised now but are guaranteed only in the next life. ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.‘ (vs. 23) In the meantime in your suffering continue to have faith and trust in a future day of justice for you ain’t going to see it in this life.

A blessing of opposition theology?

To be persecuted for the name of the Son of Man is a privilege not a disaster. Don’t complain, embrace it.

A willingness to be hated and taken-advantage theology?

Love enemies in a way the boggles the mind of them and anyone else watching. It is going to be personally extremely costly – emotionally and financially.

A self-sacrifical costly love theology?

There is zero self-interest in this life to Jesus’ calls to love enemies. Love for the sake of it. Love because God is like that. Love as God loves whatever the cost.

Jesus the terrible salesman

Jesus is simply a terrible salesman.

Nothing about material comfort, security, the right to happiness, social standing. Not a  word about how much we are loved by God. Not a mention of unconditional grace.

But instead a whole bunch of well-on-nigh impossible exhortations that are guaranteed to seriously inconvenience disciples’ lives.

Surely this sermon needs to be sent back to the marketing department for a serious re-write.

I wonder what the re-draft would look like?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

4 thoughts on “Some things Jesus was terrible at

  1. Humility, dear sir, humility.

    “Not a mention of unconditional grace.”

    What mean you here? Once saved, always saved? Holy or moral living is needed. Giving lip service to the faith and failing to live the faith is not a ticket to salvation.

  2. Greetings Larry. I suspect we are on the same page. My (tongue in cheek) point is actually close to what you say. The sermon in Luke 6 has no room for any ‘easy believism’ – precisely the opposite.

  3. Well Patrick so rarely do I ever find myself questioning such an eminent theologian that I confess to doing it with some relish. Your goal of questioning the notion of cheap grace and championing costly discipleship is dead on. But I question the basis of your argument.

    Here’s someone who puts it better than I ever could:
    “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” CS Lewis – The weight of glory

    I know that isn’t the Bible but it’s CS Lewis which is the next best thing, isn’t it?

    Your post assumes that “in heaven” or “in the heavens” means “you ain’t going to see it in this life” but Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and “you will be children of the Most High” seems to be presented as a current reality. How would you read Luke 18:29-20? “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” I’d go with Lewis that Jesus unashamedly promises reward now but I think the nature of the rewards makes them of little value to those who really want comfort, safety and the promise of a cozy future – so I am with you that he promises no such thing and thus is indeed a bad salesman in current thinking.

  4. Greetings Sean! Well I won’t dare to argue with Charles Staples .. A couple of points in my own defence.

    I was sticking to Luke 6 and the sermon on the plain and musing how ‘out of step’ it is as a sermon in tone and content with modern assumptions. So not denying that elsewhere like Luke 18 (and much of the rest of the NT) that there are lots of great blessings in the present (esp Holy Spirit).

    In the Beatitudes ‘Yours is the kingdom of God’ is the only present tense which is an encouragement in the now. Agreed that vs 35 must include present reward / blessing / favour as well as future. I could have made more of those two points.

    But overall, reading over it as a unit it struck me how tough it is, and how forcefully orientated to trials, difficulties, cost and hardship now, with most emphasis on a great future reward. Is this not quite consistent with Lewis’ point – that such great joy and blessing lies ahead that that is what disciples are to be inspired & energised by in the present without getting distracted by the mud pies?

    Coming back to the question in the post – can we imagine a sermon being preached like this today?

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