I remember once finding a track of a live version of a song that I really like by one of my favorite bands. Live versions of songs aren’t always that enjoyable to me, but they do carry an intensity that is never fully captured in a recording session. Anyway, as I played the recording I found myself immediately disoriented. Instead of the opening I was accustomed to, the drum started hammering out a strange and unfamiliar syncopation. I assumed this was the end of another song and the one I expected would start soon, but to my great surprise, I realized that it was in fact the song I was looking for. The band had simply changed the rhythm which had the effect of reforming the melody. The lyrics, instead of being their normal staccato were drawn out in harmonies. It was the same song but it was presented completely differently that what I anticipated and had come to expect. The band had turned the song upside down for me and it was like hearing it all with fresh ears.
One thing that has characterized Jesus’ ministry as we’ve read about it in the gospel of Matthew is the unexpected way in which he takes the world and turns it upside down. Or, we really should say, right side up. Where all of the expectations and norms have pointed in one direction, Jesus comes along and turns the signs completely around. Like the band I mentioned – he played the right song, but in ways that nobody could have anticipated.
In the section we’ll be reading this Sunday, Jesus does this yet again. We’ll be reading Matthew 19:13-26.
As the section opens, Matthew once again has children at the center stage. We mentioned back in chapter 18 what the attitudes were concerning children in the ancient world. Jesus overturns those attitudes and grants person-hood status to those who weren’t afforded that by the surrounding culture. What does that tell us about our own personal value as it concerns God’s view of us?
On the heels of that we are introduced to a young man who has everything going on in his life. He’s young, rich, powerful (according to the parallel passage in Luke 18:18 he’s called a ruler) and according to his own testimony, he’s a decent guy who cares about the law of Moses. He is the picture of success in any culture, including our own. We’ll go into more detail on Sunday about the interaction between Jesus and this dude – but let’s focus on what Jesus tells him. The young man has everything going on for him by the world’s standards, and that is the very place where Jesus places the ax in his response. “Here’s what you lack – here’s what you could do to be complete – sell all your stuff and give it to the poor and you’ll have riches in heaven and you can follow me.” That was a bridge too far for that young man. The Bible has a lot of negative things to say about wealth and the eagerness for riches. Why do you suppose the young man walked away from Jesus at this point? What would you be afraid of losing when it comes to following Jesus?
This is a heavy lesson and one that wasn’t lost on the disciples. They sort of wig out asking who can actually be saved, if this guy who seemed so blessed didn’t earn a spot. That gives Jesus one more opportunity to turn the world upside down as it touches religion. The Broken world’s ideas about religion always center on our ability to earn our salvation by how well we can perform religious duties. Jesus explodes that concept. What do you interpret the impossible for man but possible with God dynamic to mean, given the context of salvation? How does this effect your understanding of what Jesus told the young man to do?
I’m really looking forward to digging into this together – see you Sunday, all you Upside-downzies!