Jesus, surprised you thought it would be easy on account of how he kept saying it would be really hard and you would not enjoy yourself.
It is turning into a vice, but every morning I do go and check out the fashion and celebrity news on Flipboard. It aggregates all the things that famous people are saying, along with vague news articles about Boris and Trump, fluffy cat pictures, and listicles galore. The only bad part is that it is jarring to wander around over there, through the seven ways to make your cheap outfit look more expensive, the three things you can do to make your living room look more fashionable, the ten things you should do every day to be happy, the thing that Taylor Swift said about Jameela Jamil, what a Kardashian wore for Halloween, and three things you’re never supposed to require from your child and then try to wrap your mind around anything that Jesus might say.
So anyway, it’s Fake All Saints today, and there is a listicle—turns out even God isn’t against numbering things. Most people have forgotten about the original ten things they were supposed to do to go to heaven. All of them can be summed up under the heading, Be Holy or Don’t Ever Sin. Like all lists, a mere glanced is enough to tell you they’re impossible, just like all the lists on Ladders.com.
The traditional listicle for All Saints is more worrisome, I think, because some people like to pretend that they can do it. I heard one person say, “Oh, I’m a peace maker, like Jesus, it’s just who I am.” Hmmm, I nodded, sure you are. Clearly you have reconciled humanity to God inside your own bosom. How is the poor in spirit-ness going? I mean, I didn’t say that, I just judged him in my heart, as Jesus commands me not to do.
This is Luke’s version—8 divine expectations which, if you are honest with yourself, you do not share and which are, both at a surface glance, and when you go deeper, super disappointing:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Oh, well, that sounds fun. The list should read more like this:
Blessed are the rich, for they can better live our their body neutrality without having to stuff themselves into clothes they hate.
Blessed are the full, for they are able to eat keto and have a trainer and do not have to walk by trays of donuts at coffee hour.
Blessed are those who laugh now, for nobody wants to be unhappy, indeed, the very point of earthly life is happiness, that’s pretty much what propels me through the day, the bleak search for happiness.
Blessed are you when people love you, for that is also why you get up in the morning. Being reviled and excluded is absolutely the last thing you can face.
Woe to you who live in California, for indeed, that sounds really miserable with the fires and the blackouts.
Woe to you who got scammed by airbnb.
Woe to you who have the wrong thoughts about things on social media. I hope you don’t lose your job.
Woe to you who are stressed out about all the things.
In other words, the problem with Jesus’ version of a happy life is that all the happiness seems to be promised for later. The woes and the blessings are in the wrong places. It’s like he was confused, and flipped them round the wrong way.
Anyway, those were all descriptive, what can you do to be happy, or successful, or whatever? Well, there are a few things. Ten things to do, besides the Ten Commandments:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
To put it more succinctly, do the opposite of everything you want to do, everything that feels ‘right,’ everything that would make you happy in the short term. You’re being offered a long, terrible, marshmallow test, only with no qualifications for income, family background, or anything.
I particularly love Jesus’ ridiculous question, “What benefit is that to you?” That’s like asking, Is the sky blue? It is of every benefit to do good to people who are doing good to you. That’s called being normal, and human, and being sure that you have a job again the next morning. As for loving my enemies. Well, I mean, I must first love myself, remember? The greatest love of all…or something like that.
No, truly, it is important to count the cost and see that if you are going to put yourself into the hands of Jesus, you are basically letting go of the things that make the most sense to you, to your idea of flourishing, to your idea of happiness and comfort, and are going to have your whole world thrown into turmoil.
Not to update it, but if you wanted to use some more modern words, you could maybe tack them on:
Blessed are the anxious, now, for Jesus really did promise that life would be full of trouble and there would be plenty to wake you up in the middle of the night with those horrible spin cycles where you can’t grab a hold of reality and when you try to pray sometimes that just makes it worse.
Blessed are the ones who are counting out their dollars, however painfully, and are overwhelmed both by their own needs and those of everybody around them.
Blessed are the people who endure conflict and try their best to resolve it but sometimes it just doesn’t go the way they hoped.
Blessed are those who try really hard for “balance” and “margin” but because they have real relationships with people, and are obedient to Christ, they find themselves pressed for time because an orderly and perfect life that makes sense to them and is really comfortable is not very important to Jesus.
I mean, I could go on, but I think the original list is pretty great. Ages ago, when the people of Israel first wandered into the promised land, they were supposed to stand on two mountains and shout the blessings and curses of that promise. If they obeyed God it would go well. If they disobeyed, it would go badly. And of course it went badly, because they could not obey. They needed a Savior. They needed God Himself to come and be obedient to his own law, to take the law and inscribe it, rather painfully, onto their very hearts. They needed to have the mercy of God remake their minds so that they could endure the promised hardship and trial for his sake on their way into his perfect and holy kingdom.
And, of course, he did. He came, he opened the way to heaven that had been barred by their rebellious disobedience, yea even my own, and yours. He takes this horrible list and turns your very soul over so that it is really the right way up. Can you explain it? Not really. There’s no human explanation for the alien humility and strength that propels you not only through the week, but into church on Sunday morning. See you there!