The Topsy-Turvy Shalom of Christ: Absurd Discipleship in Ordinary Time

The Topsy-Turvy Shalom of Christ: Absurd Discipleship in Ordinary Time February 3, 2019
Image via Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.
Luke 4:21-30

This week in the lectionary, Jesus almost gets thrown off the mountain by an angry mob who wasn’t pleased with his preaching. Jesus shows up at his local synagogue, and everyone is delighted that the hometown boy has made good, and eagerly awaits special favors from the son of Joseph. He’s from here! We’re “his people”! His miracles here will be even more magnificent than everywhere else!

But Jesus, who doesn’t know how to grease the wheels of power so that he can get a speaking gig, not only tells them that they won’t get a special treatment, but reminds them of all the times in Israel’s history when God reached out and found the outsider, instead.

I’m not here for the hometeam, Jesus says. I’m here for everyone, just like God has always been trying to tell you. And in particular, I’m here for the ones you wanted to leave behind.

This did not lead to a standing ovation.

Jesus rarely got standing ovations from anyone running anything. Jesus’ popularity was much grittier. The people who wanted to touch his cloak were the ones that were dying. They had physical ailments that prevented them from joining communities fully. They were the women, the forgotten, the sick, the poor.

They weren’t just physically gritty, they were politically gritty. The Roman centurion, who was an oppressor. Zaccheus, who was a tax collector who betrayed his own people to the Romans.

Whether you were a radical leftist revolutionary who wanted to burn Rome to the ground, or an institutional conservative who wanted to maintain an inner circle of meaning-making just for a particular community – Jesus wasn’t interested in your speaking gig.

Jesus would get thrown off a mountain before he would water down his message of knocking down every single wall that anyone would dare put up between God and the Other.

It’s what Jonathan Martin calls the good news, and the bad news. The good news is, Jesus is coming for you! The bad news is – well, Jesus is coming for everyone, like it or not.

“God is no respecter of our accolades or achievements,” Soong-Chan Rah reminds us in his book Prophetic Lament, and Jesus spends exactly zero minutes pruning his message so that he can get those accolades or achievements.

Jesus decided, every time he preached and healed and traveled, to prioritize the people standing on the outside over his own success and safety.

This is an upside-down Kingdom, that has eyes for everyone unimportant and a heart for everyone on the outside.

It’s an upside-down Kingdom, a not-kingdom that has people leaving their jobs in the middle of the work week to go on a roadtrip with a preacher who was never going to be successful.

***

I have cultivated a very tame Christianity. It’s easy to do. We look at Christianity through the lense of “what makes sense” in our culture. What will keep our rent paid, what will keep our health insurance, what won’t rustle any important jimmies, what our coworkers will respect, what our political candidates are saying, what our pastor agrees with, what that important book said, what our degree was in. It can happen so automatically that we don’t even notice we’ve done it.

That is surviving. Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s a time for everything, and I think that this is true of survival seasons, too. We all ride through those surviving seasons for days or weeks or years.

But what will you do in the moment when you’re out fishing, and Jesus calls your name – your spiritual name, that one that only you and Jesus know – from the bank?

And in that moment, can you put down “what makes sense,” theologically or professionally, spiritually or logistically, and follow our nonsensical, unsuccessful Savior into a riskier, upside-down faith? Can you release your fear of what you’ll lose to open your hands for what you’ll gain, even if you can’t see the gain clearly yet?

Can you trust Jesus enough to jump before you see what’s on the other side?

It feels upside-down, but as soon as you’re barely out of the boat you’ll know right away that the topsy-turvy shalom of Christ makes a helluva lot more sense than we thought.

The world is what’s topsy-turvy, not Jesus at all.

Our culture is full of shit about beauty and bodies. Our culture tells us lies about “redemptive violence” and convinces us that there is something sacred about killing other people if done properly – for country, for God. It tells us that there isn’t enough so we’ve got to hoard our resources. It tells us that the lie of individuality – that we all have what we deserve and that people with nothing deserve nothing. It tells us the lie of white supremacy, and more insidiously, it tells us the lie that white supremacy in our churches and institutions and laws of our country doesn’t exist. It tells us that it’s more important to be right than to be kind, and it tells us that our neighbor is the person who looks like us, believes like us, votes like us, and is “worthy of love.”

Those aren’t lies that we can think our way out of.  Those aren’t lies that we can theologize out of out.

Action is the only way out. This insidious, ugly, hungry web that the world has woven around us can only be dismantled by recklessly, absurdly loving our neighbor.

But wanting to justify himself to Jesus, he said, “who is my neighbor?” [Lk 10:25-37].

Always, always the Samaritan.

Exactly the person that you would never accept help from, and exactly the person you would never step off your path to help.

Jesus is hammering into our heads, at the expense of his safety and popularity, that the lines we draw around ourselves about who we will love and who we won’t, who we will accept and who we won’t, who is in and who is out, are bullshit.

Jesus is no respecter of person, of success, of accomplishments, of power. Jesus is here to teach us how to love our neighbors, and to pull down every wall we build between us.

And don’t you dare say that that isn’t “safe,” because Jesus was so unconcerned with His safety when He preached the Gospel that He was killed before He would fight back to protect Himself.

It’s nonsense. It’s a leap of faith, and as Kierkegaard reminds us, it is absurd.

All we can do is believe as much as we can that we are beloved before we go, hold our breath, and jump.

Risk a little nonsense in your Christianity, Beloved.

God –
Help us hear “give all you have to the poor & follow Me”
as an invitation to more, not less.
Break this ugly, hungry culture’s grip.

Loose us into wide-open spaces,
where Your topsy-turvy shalom has more than enough for us all.
May we trust You enough to be let You free us.
Amen.

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  • Daniel G. Johnson

    Well written.

    But, what if Luke has an anti-Judaism focus? If we accept the Lukan text uncritically, then we get a pretty convenient launching pad for progressive points wherein the particular of the tribe is held to be negative and tyrannical and the universality of the “all” is the moral high ground. But, the Jews have to take the brunt of that whole hermeneutic. In regard to the Samaritan meme, a study of the actual history has to be suppressed. In fact, the enmity between Jew and Samaritan was mutual. Samaritans were just as guilty. The over arching question here is how can a Christian universalist message be articulated without using Jews as the foil? The New Testament is replete with anti-Judaism because of the political struggle mainstream Jews and the early Church were locked in…in the first and second centuries. Should not the whole paradigm be reconstructed?