Sometimes you think you really know a person, and then she says or does something that catches you completely off guard. She hasn’t changed. But now you see a dimension of this person that you had previously missed or denied or ignored or overlooked until just this moment.
If you follow Jesus for any length of time, he will do this to you over and over again. Just when you get comfortable with who he is and what he’s about, he does something or says something that gives you a whole new perspective on who he is, what he has come to do, and what it means to be a Jesus-follower.
For instance, he confronts rigorously moral, religious people and cozies up with shady characters. His parables say crazy things, like everybody gets paid the same no matter how long they’ve been working in the vineyard.
And then there’s this doozy. Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51) Ugh, hello, Jesus! You’re the Prince of Peace!
Trust me! He knows. He also knows that we don’t really understand peace. Neither have we fully grasped or committed to what it will take to get from the controlled conflict we call peace today to the perfect shalom that Jesus has come to bring.
In the Message, Eugene Peterson interprets Jesus’ words like this. “I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up.” (Luke 12:51) Contrary to what so many people seem to think, Jesus has not come solely to ensure that our life after this life will be spent in the nearer presence of God.
Jesus has come to do God’s will, to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Earth as it is on earth is upside down. Jesus has come to turn it rightside up.
Let’s unpack who Jesus is and what he has come to do by considering three questions:
How are things upside down?
If the world were rightside up, what would it look like?
How is God turning things rightside up?
To Have or Have Not
So, how is the world upside down? Let’s hear what Mary the Mother of God tells us. Here is what she said about the baby Jesus in her womb when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)
Jesus came to change life on planet earth. He inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven right here on planet earth just by showing up, and that means turning things as we know them upside down.
But really, he’s not turning anything upside down. We’ve just been looking at an upside down world so long that we’ve mistaken it for the way things should be. Have to be. Jesus means to turn our upside down world rightside up. The way God intends it to be.
Later on, Jesus himself speaks this familiar phrase to make his point: “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30) It’s not that he’s going to make the rich poor and the poor rich. Our whole way of organizing our world is topsy turvy.
A world organized into haves and have nots, insiders and outsiders, top and bottom is upside down.
Jesus never said that the rich are bad or that everybody has to have the same income or drive the same car or wear the same clothes. But he is very clear that a world in which some can swim in luxury and others suffer chronic deprivation is upside down. God intends for all of his children to be the recipients of his providence.
God is not holding out on us. We are getting in the way of his generosity.
At the heart of the problem is the lie that we are in this life for ourselves. We’ve been taught to strive to make a better place for ourselves in the world. God’s plan is that each of us should strive to make a better world for everybody. And that brings us to our next question.
A Kingdom of Servants
What would a rightside up world look like?
Strictly speaking, the structure of our world begins with the logic of our heart. Jesus came to change the world right down to its core, so he came to change the heart from which it pours.
He schooled his own disciples on this very lesson. Listen to how Mark tells the story:
“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ “ (Mark 9:33-35)
Those who seek their own fulfillment, comfort, security, and status first and foremost distort the world as God envisions it. They look first for what they can get out of the world, what they can consume and possess.
By contrast, Jesus models a servant’s heart. Servants ask what they can add to the world, how they can contribute, and where they can build someone else up.
With an upside down heart we see our own talents and abilities as means by which to better our own lot in life. Jesus teaches a different heart logic. When our hearts are rightside up, we see our talents and abilities as gifts given by God to others through us. Servants live to give themselves away for the sake of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of servants. And wherever the Kingdom takes hold on this planet, what Jesus says to John’s followers about who he is and what he has come to do becomes a visible, palpable reality:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 7:22)
Hearts and Hands
So, how is God turning things rightside up? He has done it through the cross and the resurrection, and he is doing it through the Church.
The cross and the empty tomb change everything. In Jesus Christ, we are a new creation. His suffering love and death-defeating life transform our hearts. We can’t just decide to make ourselves into servant-hearted people. But as we follow Jesus day by day, his influence shapes us into his very own image.
Jesus changes our hearts so that the Church will be his hands and feet. It is not enough that we have compassion. With hearts and minds transformed by Christ, we the Church become his instruments in turning the world rightside up.
He will give eyes to see what is upside down and the guidance and the strength to begin turning things rightside up.
You don’t have to look very far. Studies show that Louisiana is at the bottom among the states in healthcare for the elderly and the disabled. Now that we are closing our hospitals for the indigent, an even larger pool of people will go without access to basic medical care.
Following the example of Interfaith Pharmacy and the St. Luke’s Mobile Medical Ministry, we can join forces with other congregations and the local medical community to find ways to provide prescription medications, provide basic health screening, and offer some outpatient treatment.
Our educational system is in crisis, and our high school graduation rates are sagging. We can take action as congregations. Adopt a struggling school with financially disadvantaged students. Provide supplies, offer tutoring, or make sure that a sports team gets a meal on game day. Remember, some of these children can only count on a meal on school days.
Look to Shepherd Center in St. Joseph as a model for providing clothing. Solomon House in New Iberia shows us all how to supplement the food needs of the working poor and unemployed.
This is more than just nice people doing good deeds. This is God at work. God is turning things rightside up through our hands and our feet.