As I read Luke’s version of Jesus’ famous teachings around our response to bullies and beggars, I am stricken with one question… “How?” “How can any of us learn to live in this way?” It seems rather impractical to turn the other cheek to someone who abuses us. Our entertainment is ripe with revenge stories. And we all know how the American government handles aggression. We respond with a show of force. The wisdom of this age says: “Do unto others if you if you think they are ready to do it unto you.” And giving to anyone who begs? Giving out cash to beggars is to potentially fund substance abuse than to truly help. And if somebody steals from you, don’t try and get it back! That seems insane! And don’t get me started about not judging others. Our brains constantly judge, weighing options and accessing threats. It’s instinctive to judge others. It’s how we’ve learned to survive as the chief mammal on the planet.
These teachings are delivered by Jesus to a great multitude from all over Judea, and even way up to Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon. They came to hear Jesus preach, to be healed of their diseases or liberated from demonic possession. And they were healed. They were liberated. Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God subverts the kingdoms of this world. The values of the kingdoms of this world are in opposition to the values of the kingdom where love reigns. Pragmatism and rapid results drive many of our values. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds in the garden, and yet it grows into the tallest of trees. “Slow and steady wins the race” goes the old proverb. Sowing seeds of love in small and consistent ways will yield a mighty harvest.
I’m convinced that the only way we might learn to live according to the values of the kingdom of God is to have our hearts fundamentally changed. The church refers to the change of heart, that comes through faith in Christ, as regeneration, new birth, new creation or new humanity. It is participating in the resurrection of Jesus. It is living in the future now. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, a new kind of man. All who believe in Him share in His resurrection, and participate in the dawn of a new creation.
Christians are called to live a life of love. Love is not just some warm and fuzzy feeling. Love is divine power, the same power that created the universe, the same power that raised Jesus from the grave to everlasting life. Love recreates our inner lives. From this change inside, our behavior reflects the new creation.
I am convinced that the only way we will learn to live as Jesus teaches is to have our hearts not only changed, but satisfied. We suddenly have our eyes opened to the truth that satisfaction is not found in things, but in God.
In Genesis 34, the patriarch Jacob is reconciled with his twin brother Esau. You may remember that Jacob was a conniving little so & so. He manipulated his brother out of his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. He tricked his elderly and blind father, Isaac, into blessing him instead of Esau. Esau vowed to kill Jacob for these things. Jacob fled for his life.
20 years later both men had prospered greatly. Esau grew to become a great clan who were known as the Edomites. Herod the Great came from Esau’s lineage. God was with Jacob and prospered him as well. God told Jacob to return home. Knowing that Esau had vowed to kill him, Jacob sent ahead to Esau a very generous gift of cattle, sheep, goats and other riches. He hoped to soften his brother’s heart. It worked. But Esau wanted to give it back, because he was doing well enough on his own. Listen to what Jacob said in response.
“Please accept the present that I brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” (Gen 33:11, NIV)
When you realize the gracious gift of God in Jesus Christ, you understand you have all that you need. Only God can satisfy the deep longings of our hearts.
A Generous Soul
A generous soul is a satisfied soul.
It’s not money, nor houses, nor clothing or cars.
It’s not fame or power or friends at the bar.
Though for things we strive, and for things we plead,
It’s the love of God which answers our need.
A satisfied soul is a generous soul.
No good thing is lacking and we cease all demands.
Our cup overflows and opens our hands.