An Upside Down Kingdom

On All Saint’s Sunday, we read about the radical kingdom of God, unlike any government or kingdom on earth. It is Luke’s version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The listeners were more than likely speechless and confused in the same way that we might be scratching our heads if we allow our minds and hearts to dig deeply into the meaning of Jesus’ message. Everything as we know it gets turned upside down.

The text for today is divided into three specific categories… blessings, woes, and a command to love our enemies. 

Many sermons could be written about each part, so to preach one message combining all of them would be a shallow commentary. That said, I’ve chosen one verse that speaks volumes about this upside down Kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.

Sitting in this warm church, on comfortable seats, among family and friends in a typical middle-class environment makes this text hard to grasp. Consider the context in which this sermon was shared. Jesus was a working
class carpenter’s son, probably trained in carpentry himself, who walked from town to town preaching and teaching this unusual message. His disciples left their families and livelihoods to follow him. They had no unemployment income, no health insurance, nor did they have the comforts of a refrigerator, microwave, laundry-mat, or showers. 

They didn’t have a closet filled with jeans, dress slacks, or dresses (yes, there were female disciples!) The crowd sat and stood on the grass and rocks, listening intently to a man without a microphone, and probably sharing the words to those who couldn’t hear from the back.

The Jewish people were under the occupation of the Romans. Taxes to the emperor were ridiculously high, leaving little to live on, but in exchange, the Jewish people would be protected from outside forces. Protection was not something to be taken lightly because Israel was a central transportation route between Egypt, the Middle East, and the Roman Empire, along the Mediterranean Sea. It was probably similar to Chicago today, where all transportation around Lake Michigan is forced to travel. Like most occupying forces, the Romans were wealthy in comparison to the Jewish people, who basically worked for minimum wage under their occupiers.

These Hebrew people were seeking a leader to help them escape their slave-like conditions. They wanted a charismatic, strong, and courageous person to lead a revolution against the Roman army. And since they were the chosen people of God, they believed that this leader came in the man of Jesus. Now, listen to verse 20 again. “Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.”

The people came from all around, following after the Son of God that would lead them out of Roman control, and after gathering in a large field excited to hear Jesus speak, he tells them that they are blessed to be poor! It would be like Publisher’s Clearing House calling to say you’ve won their sweepstakes and when they arrive with your check, it is worth $5. MAJOR LETDOWN!

Blessed are the poor. The Greek word “ptochoi” is translated ‘poor’. It is also described as those who are dependent on others for support, those in need of God’s help, people who feel of little value, worthless, or powerless.” These are people who have no social standing, no collateral, and no influence. They are the overlooked, the overworked, the underpaid, the forgotten, the unappreciated, and the unloved. What value are they to society? They are irrelevant.

And yet Jesus says, they are the blessed. They are the people who have no option but to trust God because they recognize that they can’t do it on their own. They have no choice but to rely on the generosity of others for survival because their own efforts fall short. And while they have little, they are still able to give of themselves, to invest in compassion for others because that’s the one thing that they have in abundance. Is there any question why those who have little have historically given the largest percentage of income out of generosity? They know what it means to be poor and therefore can connect to others in similar circumstances without judgment.

Jesus and the disciples didn’t have much more than the clothes on their backs. Each disciple was gifted in different ways that helped the group, such as fishermen, money managers, farmers, etc. This message that Jesus preached was not about how God’s chosen people would lead a luxurious life of plenty and pleasure. No, Jesus taught relationships, caring about others as much as ourselves while trusting God to provide. If God asks us to give generously, will he not also provide the resources? Do we trust God enough to take the risk?

He was the example of true relationships based on love, compassion, and mercy…where compassion for others led him to share even when he didn’t have much. Everyone is a loved creation of God, and even when people don’t make the best choices in life, Jesus teaches that we should still desire a fulfilling life for all. Nobody is more deserving of compassion, love, and mercy than anyone else. Mother Theresa was a beloved contemporary ‘saint’. She lived frugally but never ran out of compassion for others. With little worldly value, she was rich in overflowing blessings, compassion, and purpose. We are all poor in one way or another, maybe financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. This life is not defined by how much we do for ourselves but by how much we do for others.

After all, we come into this life with nothing and we leave with nothing but the hope and promise of eternity in the presence of the Most High. Today we remember those saints who have passed before us. Each of hem learned and taught perseverance, love and mercy in different ways. They left their legacies and faith to teach following generations about wisdom only found in aspects of poverty. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. Let’s not forget that the meaning, the purpose of life, is found in relationships, loving and forgiving one another, just as Jesus has done for us. It is in sharing Jesus’ acts of love and mercy that we are blessed. Amen.