The other day I was reflecting on how the Psalmists complain to God about the prosperity of the wicked.
I understood how it must have felt for the Israelites to see their enemies – who were pagans – flourishing and growing strong and wealthy, while they – the “People of God” – were suffering, poor, weak and downcast.
Anyone would question this outcome under the same circumstances. Anyone would wonder what good it was to follow their faith if those of another faith were experiencing better results.
Of course, faith isn’t necessarily about results, but it’s human nature to feel this way, and respond this way.
When the Israelites were in bondage to other nations – pagan nations who mocked their God and profaned their faith in Him – they felt a very strong sense of injustice. They chafed at being on the bottom while those godless pagans were on top.
They had no power, while the pagans had power over them. They had no wealth, while those evil people had riches and comfort. They were humbled, yet their enemies were proud.
You can read for yourself how this made them feel:
“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”
This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” [Psalm 73:14]
Bottom line: The Jewish people were on the bottom. Their enemies were on the top. They wanted God to reverse the order. They were desperate for the day when they would be on the top and their enemies would be crushed beneath their feet.
But then I realized something that blew my mind: When Jesus shows up, he does reverse the order, but not in the way they expected. Jesus says, “Being on the bottom is where the entrance to the Kingdom is found. People on the bottom are blessed of God.” Not only this, Jesus essentially tells them, “We will not crush our enemies, we will embrace them, and love them, and serve them, and forgive them.”
The reversal takes place, but not politically. Instead, Jesus reverses the order in their mind. He flips their perspective.
See, Jesus’s mission was not to overthrow the Roman oppressors and exalt the Jewish Empire. His mission was to heal the World. He did not come to bring justice for some and punishment for others. He came to show us that everyone is our neighbor and our brother. He told us that all are equally loved by God and that because this is true, we should be like God and bless (and love) everyone, too. Yes, even the godless pagans who oppress us.
The Sermon on the Mount is one huge inversion of Psalm 73. It says, “The oppressed are blessed. The oppressors are too. God’s favor really does rest on both the righteous and the unjust. God’s love is universal and falls like the rain on everyone, no matter what. If they love God, they are blessed. If they reject Him, they are still blessed and loved. So, if this is how God behaves, then those who want to be like God, and those who want to truly be the ‘children of God’, should do what God does – love everyone and share blessings with everyone.”
If we do that, then we will live in the Kingdom of God. This is how we change the world. Not by violence and war. Not by winning so that others can lose. But by finding a way to help everyone see the Kingdom and enter into this wide open way of loving as God loves.
Can we do this? Yes, but only if we remain so close to Jesus that we begin to think like Him; and we begin to breathe Him in and realize that He is closer than our own heartbeat and alive within our own body. Without Him, we can really do nothing. But if we abide in Him, then He lives and breathes in us, and once that happens, the world will begin to change, and that change will start with us.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb.” He is also the co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” Podcast.