Recipe for Upside-Down World

I turned to Matthew 19 to look at the story in which Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Then my Quaker seminary training reminded me to check the stories that came before and after to see how they would shed more light on the story, and what I found just blew me away. Here’s the deal:

First comes “unless you are like a child, you can’t get into heaven”. Then Jesus talked about how hard it is for a rich person to get into heaven. This is followed by the sons of Zebedee arguing about who gets to sit next to Jesus, and they’re told that the first shall be last and vice versa. They are also scolded for their blindness, immediately following which Jesus gives sight to two beggars, his last act before he rides into Jerusalem to be crucified.

Do I detect a theme?

Jesus places children above adults, poor people above rich people, servants above masters, blind beggars above his own disciples. And these are the final words of his itinerant ministry, so they must have been important.

Jesus tells us who the spiritual giants in society are: people who are unsophisticated, poor, have low status professions, and have a disability. 

Whenever I bring up this topic, I want to emphasize that I’m not suggesting that you maim yourself, take substances that reduce your mental capacity to that of a three-year old, sell all your belongings, or take a low status profession. Guilt is not a language spoken in this blog. My God-given language is Abundance.

Lovingly, promising a life of spiritual abundance, Jesus gives us a recipe for health: turn things upside-down.

 Query for prayerful consideration:

What is God asking me to turn upside-down in my own life?

6 thoughts on “Recipe for Upside-Down World

  1. My view of this passage is that Christians are literally called to own nothing. Jesus goes out of his way to give an example- easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!!- that is so extreme and outrageous that no sincere doubt can possibly remain. And he not only tells the rich man to give up his possessions, but also commends a poor person for giving all she has (Luke 21:4). Besides this, Jesus also says “No man can serve two masters: for either he will HATE THE ONE, AND LOVE THE OTHER; or else he will HOLD TO THE ONE, AND DESPISE THE OTHER. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24). It can’t get much clearer than that! I think because it is so difficult to live up to, it is very tempting to want to twist Jesus’ words or want to take them figuratively or try to find some way out of it (even the disciples had great trouble accepting this- “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” Matt 19:25), and because of this, Jesus made sure to be crystal clear. If we consider what he says without bias (and also noting that Jesus himself owned nothing), he was so explicit that it is hard to deny that he meant what he said. Also I don’t think Christian morality, whether it be peace, honesty, or non-ownership, applies only to certain people, like clergy, but equally to all. Yes, it is only if we want to be perfect, but Jesus says “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)

    Obviously, I own a great deal of stuff, so I am the first to admit I come NOWHERE CLOSE to living by this ideal! I am not strong enough right now, not free from materialism and greed and attachment, to give up my possessions. But I think it is IMPORTANT to always try to keep the ideal of non-ownership in mind. As time goes on, I hope to work at becoming more generous and living more simply, to approximate the ideal to a greater and greater degree.

    PS We need to be careful with equating the “kingdom of heaven” with “heaven.” I don’t think the kingdom of heaven is a place in the clouds people lay around in after they die. I interpret the “kingdom of heaven” to be just Matthew’s terminology for what Luke calls the “kingdom of God” which is “within you” (Luke 17:21). It seems to me that for Jesus, to “enter the kingdom of heaven” is to spiritually purify one’s heart, and it happens in the present, not after death.


  2. Interestingly, Jesus does not initially say that the young man should sell all his belongings in Matthew 19 or its parallel versions in Mark 10 and Luke 18. Jesus starts off by saying that the young man should – in essence – follow the 10 commandments. It is only when the young man presses him further that Jesus responds that he should sell his belongings. In Mt, Jesus says “if you want to be perfect”, though that is not present in the two other versions. To me that suggests that, for most of us, following the 10 commandments may be sufficient. Selling everything and giving the money to the poor is not for everyone, but for those among us who are called to poverty.
    Perhaps I am just rationalizing?
    My instincts tell me I’m right, though, for this reason: money, like every other created thing is a neutral substance. It has neither the power to save us nor to damn us.


  3. sell all your belongings…

    Jesus actually says to do this pretty clearly. But I prefer abundance to guilt. Not sure where I’m going with this.

    All in all, I really liked this post.


  4. I think it’s mostly important that we remember even those who don’t have a certain faith or lifestyle, that we as seekers are still not above them. Even if we live as saints, we will always be equal with those who don’t.


  5. There is such a tension for those Christains living amidst material abundance yet often without spiritual abundance (or at least amidst rigid religious rules for social behavior). Who do we follow, the god of Mammon or the god described in the Sermon on the Mount? Where do we get our marching orders to guide a faith-based reaction to the harshness of the political and economic systems we’ve created? The only place in the Bible where I have found direct instructions in how to navigate this high wire act was in the Book of Micah: “What doth the Lord require of thee? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God. ”
    Oh so simple to say. Oh, so challenging to do. It’s a start.


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