Sorry, I just don’t feel a need for Jesus.

Sorry, I just don’t feel a need for Jesus.

Consider the following question:

“If I don’t really feel any need for Jesus in this life, if my life is actually pretty good and I don’t need Christianity (or, more generally, religion) to support me in any way (e.g., psychologically, socially, intellectually, etc.), why would I bother disrupting my life by becoming a follower of Jesus?  My life is good, and I’m pretty much content.”

Man Sleeping on Railroad Tracks

In Luke 6.20-26 Jesus begins his teaching by giving a series of “blessings and woes.”  Both “blessings” and “woes” are statements that connect the present and the future.  The word “blessed” (along with its negative counterpart “woe”) means “fortunate’ (e.g., in Acts 26.2 Paul is addressing himself to King Agrippa, and he says, “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you…”; the word translated “blessed’ here in Luke 6.20-22 is the same Greek word and has the same meaning in both places).  That is, Jesus is saying, “It will go well in the future for one who is/does such-and-such now.”

So, Jesus first says:  Fortunate are…

– “the poor”, because they will reap the benefits of the coming reign of God (v. 20);

– “those who hunger now“, because they will be fed” (v 21a);

– “those who weep now“, because they will laugh” (v. 21b);

– “you whenever men hate you and when they exclude you and vilify you and reject your name as evil on account of the Son of man”; indeed, he says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”–why?–“because your reward will be great in heaven” (vv. 22-23a).

These are astonishing words.  In the “woes” that follow Jesus addresses the antithetical persons–i.e., those who are “rich” and “satisfied” and “who laugh”–when?–now, who enjoy the favor of all men.

Why is there “woe” to them?  Why are they, in fact, most unfortunate?

Because they “are [i.e., presently/now] receiving their comfort.”  Because they will be hungry and will morn and weep.

Why does Jesus pronounce “woe” upon those whose lives are comfortable?  Jesus says that such persons will go hungry, will weep.  I.e., they will be judged.  They are going down—all of them.  Why?  What is so wrong with complacency?

Jesus judges complacency strongly because it constitutes conformity to the status quo, and in Jesus’ opinion the status quo is marked by rampant oppression, exploitation, etc., etc.  Complacency and “contentment” constitute a condoning and a colluding in a world system that is built on values that stand in direct opposition to Jesus.  There is no neutrality.

Jesus is unapologetically apocalyptic:  the world MUST be turned right side up, because it is presently upside down.  Complacency and kingdom don’t gel.

2 thoughts on “Sorry, I just don’t feel a need for Jesus.

  1. This is a difficult passage for me because, like many of Jesus’s other teachings, is he telling us to stop being materially rich and be poor with those who are poor? To stop laughing and to weep with those who weep? My wife and I budget a certain percent of our income to charity; should it be more? +10%? +50%? +300%? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to draw a line to determine what we have to do to be saved. I’m trying to determine what this passage means for us today, because it seems to forcefully condemn the way I and the people I know (including quite literally everyone at our church) live. How do we obey Christ in this? Not to be saved, but because obedience to Christ is good.

    Where in the context of this teaching does Jesus condone any laughter at all in a world where so many people cry? If we are content in anything but Christ, is that wrong (e.g., coming into an air conditioned room from a hot day; enjoying a delicious dessert; enjoying a peaceful evening with the family), and if it isn’t, where in the context of this passage does Jesus give us the freedom to “laugh” and enjoy material goods without falling under his admonishment of “woes?” It goes on: surely some of our clothing is made in sweatshops, if I cared to investigate it. Get rid of it? A great deal of our food is produced in environmentally unsustainable ways. Get rid of it? I had a good dinner last night and was satisfied – was that wrong, in a world where others starve, and if not, how do we elaborate that allowance from Jesus’s teaching here?

    And if Jesus is really commanding or at least implying that we should avoid those physical comforts, what infrastructure does the modern Church provide to those who are willing to give up all they have to serve others and weep with those weep? It’s not like we have modern equivalents of monastic dwellings in the Protestant church.

    1. Great questions, Josh.
      As I’ve asked these questions of myself (and continue to ask them, especially the financial questions), it helps me to see these blessings and woes in the context of the kingdom that Jesus is announcing and embodying: e.g., he is speaking of those whose comfort, wealth, laughter, etc., reinforce the world order that the kingdom opposes. To use the metaphor of the Exodus: there is a laughter that celebrates life in Egypt, a security/wealth that refuses to leave Egypt for the Promised Land, a reputation that can only be maintained by pleasing the pharaoh; then there is a weeping that acknowledges the slaughter of Israelite infants, a poverty that comes from investing oneself in opposing the pharaoh and supporting an oppressed people, even when they do not want your help (as was the case with Moses), a slander/defamation that comes from disobeying the pharaoh and calling for slaves to be freed.
      In short, Jesus’ descriptions of rich/poor, laughter/weeping, acclaim/rejection are to be set in the context of two different orders, two different ages, two different kingdoms. Within the passage itself he speaks of times when his followers should rejoice—indeed, “leap for joy”—viz., when “men hate you.” Jesus, then, is speaking of a general disposition that his followers are to have with respect to the first order/age/kingdom and to all who are aligned with it. Hence, I can invite others into my home–not those from whom I stand to gain reputation in the eyes of this world, but the contrary–and I can rejoice and celebrate with them in the coming kingdom. Or I can enjoy some aspect of God’s creation—other people, alcohol, sex, work, the arts, etc.—without idolizing them. The act of enjoying is worlds apart from that of idolizing b/c of the value placed upon the object (e.g., alcohol): enjoyment makes the object an option, while idolization makes the object an essential.
      To address a specific issue you mentioned—namely, finances. All your possessions belong to the Lord, to be used according to his word. 10% is a great place to begin in terms of giving. I would recommend giving all of that to your local church, and funds you have beyond that to other charities.

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