At this point in time, in that strange mix of pop psychology and the learning theory of our age, we have a phrase to describe Jesus' thought patterns as seen in today's Gospel lesson. That phrase is "counter intuitive." Jesus' thinking is running contrary to normal thinking. Jesus' wisdom is not the common folk wisdom. Jesus' sense is not common sense.
Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. But woe to you who are richâ¦" "Love you enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return."
If Jesus is being accurate, then he is describing a reality that we do not know much about. In our culture, poverty is seen as something to avoid. People will work at tasks they find dehumanizing to avoid poverty. Others will enter professions that erode the soul in order to become rich. And these are the people our culture regards as responsible and wise. We regard rich people as fortunate, not as people whose lives are full of woe. On bumper stickers, those most accurate windows onto the values of our culture, we see this bold statement: "Don't get mad, get even." And when compared to the normal human desire for revenge, this bumper sticker becomes a call for moderation. But Jesus says, "â¦ love your enemiesâ¦" Instead of doing good, we prefer to do some form of self-gratification. Even more interestingly, when we listen to people who do good, they frequently explain their motivation as "self-satisfaction." Lending without expecting something in return is just not what we have in mind. Sometimes it works out that way, but banks are unhappy when this happens.
So what is happening here? Is Jesus crazy? If it weren't for his Resurrection, we would have to say, "yes." But God raised Jesus from the dead; as a result, these sayings have a special power to reveal a reality that is to be, a reality that we can not yet see clearly. And that is the reason these sayings of Jesus are so appropriate on the Feast of All Saints. These sayings describe and point to the Kingdom of Heaven, the realm where God's saints live forever. This realm is not just an improvement on this world. It is radically different. It is rooted, grounded in the sovereign love of God.
When we are rooted, grounded in the sovereign love of God, we are able toglimpse this new reality - a place where Jesus' counter-intuitive sayings are not crazy ramblings, but wonderfully good news.
Here are some brief stories that allow us to look inside that kingdom where God's sovereign love is supreme:
A woman said, " As my mother was dying, I held her hand. One of her granddaughters sang hymns for three hours. After she died, we both realized how happy we were that we were present and loved her to the best of our ability to the very end."
A priest said, " I came back from that short term mission experience changed. I realized that the poorest people I have ever known not only didn't hate me for being from a rich nation, they actually loved me and promised to pray for me every day."
A man who had just left the burial of his wife said," I don't think I could stand this if I didn't know about the Resurrection."
A little girl said, " Granny told me that she will pray for me every day until we are together again in heaven."
A bishop said, " Most people are really asking some version of the question, ' why did the river take my brother?' We don't have an answer to the question, but we do know that God's love and Jesus' Resurrection make the question go away."
A man and a woman, who had just lost a baby to disease said, "We know that God lost a child. God knows what this feels like."
An old woman said, "I hope heaven is like a perfect family reunion, and we will never run out of kin folk to visit with."
A rich man said, "Now that my bed is king-size, there is a lot more room under it for things that scare me at night to live in. I'm 52 going on 3!"
A wise woman said, " The clearest vision of a skeptic doesn't see nearly as well as blind faith can see."
Sometimes, in English graveyards, you will see tombstones marked with three dates: the first date is the date of the person's birth; the second date is the date of that person's baptism; and the third date is identified as "the second death." We Christians know that the first death is Jesus' death. We enter our own first death when we are baptized. Whatever hope we have for victory and triumph over death is completely rooted and grounded in Jesus' death and Resurrection.
The glimpse we get of the realm where God's love is sovereign gives us hope. Hope is perhaps the most powerful of God's gifts to us. Hope transcends poverty and wealth. Hope wipes out hatred and nourishes love. Hope gives us the energy to do good.
The sayings of Jesus are sayings that are empowered by his vision of the realm where God's love reigns supreme. God grants us the hope that enables our dim sight to see the vision of glorious light.