read Luke 6. Today I put on a pair of shoes that hurt my right foot. They were cute, so I told myself I could “break them in” by walking to the market. It’s only a block and a half walk, after all. I only had ten minutes to get lunch, because my daughter had to catch a bus to get back to boarding school. Despite the time constraint, I went out in those cute ill-filling shoes. I made it down my elevator (just), and out the door (because the doorman held the door for me, while I slipped the right shoe back on), and about ten yards down the sidewalk – when the right shoe fell off completely. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. It’s only a block and a half, and I don’t have time to go back for a different pair. I slipped the shoe back on. I saw a homeless man stare at me. I walked about three more paces. The shoe fell off again. I bent down, shoved it back on, and walked the rest of the way by sliding the right shoe along the sidewalk like a canoe. A well-dressed woman with beautifully coiffed hair stared blatantly at my sliding foot. I looked straight ahead, pretending I had no idea why she was staring.
If the shoe doesn’t fit, we can’t wear it.
But how often in life do we persuade ourselves, like Cinderella’s stepsisters, that things fit us, just because we want them to? How can we, instead, start wearing shoes that fit?
One of the beautiful things about reading the New Testament in order is that we get to revisit the Sermon on the Mount. We saw it in Matthew 5-7, and we come up against it again here in Luke 6. It brings us up short every time we read it – which is a good thing. It’s good to have the rug pulled out from underneath us (or in my case, the shoes fly off). Why? Because God wants to give us a whole new way of journeying through life, but the first step is for us to recognize our need for a new way.
Perhaps that’s why this chapter begins not with the Beatitudes, but with the story of the hungry disciples rubbing the husk off of grain so they can eat it. As Jesus says elsewhere, “unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new life.” John 12:24. We, too, must have the hard husks rubbed off our hearts so they become the kind of hearts God can use.
God rubs the husk off our hearts first by showing us the husk is there, and by showing us the consequences of a husk. He shows us the kind of isolation our hard hearts produce. We, like the religious leaders here, can become “wild with rage” when somebody does something nice for somebody else. We can look for ways to trap other people. We can rejoice in the downfall of other people. Why? What is wrong with us?
The Bible’s diagnosis is that we don’t follow God’s ways. You can read Romans 1:28-2:1, for instance, for the summary, but the bottom line is that our hearts are “heartless.” Romans 1:31. With hearts like that, it’s no wonder we can be irrational. But God asks us not to fear the truth about our hearts.
Instead, He asks us to draw close to Jesus for healing. No wonder people reacted to Jesus by pressing close: “Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him.” Luke 6:19. We, too, can cling to Jesus. We can try to talk to Him. Jesus, who was perfect, “prayed to God all night” before choosing the 12 disciples. Our need makes us start to pray, too.
When we draw close to Jesus and talk to Him, he offers us a whole new life. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says that God blesses those who are: poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, mocked and cursed for following Jesus. Jesus says that sorrows await those who are rich, fat, prosperous, laughing, and praised. It’s the opposite of what we expect. It gets our attention. Jesus follows this with words “to you who are willing to listen.” After hearing the Beatitudes, who can fail to be willing to listen?
To those who are listening with soft hearts, Jesus says to: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who hurt you; turn the other cheek; give your shirt to those who take your coat; give to anyone who asks; not try to get back things that are taken away from you; and lend to those who can’t repay.
How can we do this? We can do it if we trust God to provide our needs. Perhaps that is why Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by saying that God blesses those who are “poor”. If we give to others as He says, we will become poor. We turn to God to give back what we gave away. And what God gives blesses us.
Why should we do this? Because God is like this. God “is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” v. 35. God is kind to us.
This brings us full circle. God asks us to be like Him and give. That empties us, which brings us back to God to meet our needs. And suddenly, we are full no longer of ourselves, but of Him. We have emptied ourselves of our pride, and there is room for His love. We have been transformed. God has turned us upside down, and then righted us in a whole new place.
This entire journey begins with our need. Our hunger is a gift. Just as the disciples picked the grain in the first place because they were hungry, so our hunger causes us to seek God. The new life God offers us is based on God’s love for us, not what we can do for Him. With His love as the standard, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount opens up to us. We no longer have to judge and condemn others, because we know the judgment has fallen on Jesus. We can forgive others as God forgives us. “Give, and you will receive,” Jesus says – and He should know, because He gave everything for us, even His life on the cross, so He could receive us into heaven with Him just as we are. We allow God to show us the logs in our eyes; we no longer have to magnify the faults of others to try to feel better about ourselves. We know we are loved. Jesus’ words become possibilities rather than crushing rules.
If we build our lives on the rock of His love, nothing can shake us. We now see that everything else is shifting sand. When you know what rock feels like, you sense the moment your foot steps into quicksand. And, as I know well from every cheesy Western I’ve ever watched, there’s only one way to be rescued from quicksand: we must stay very still and wait for the hero to lasso us. If we try to wrestle and writhe our way out of quicksand, we will only sink deeper.
Quicksand feels like the worst thing, but it’s really the best because it shows us our need of Him – and that changes everything. Can you feel the rug slipping out from underneath you? Can you feel your ill-fitting shoes cratering down the grate in the sidewalk? It’s unsettling, but it’s also beautiful. God offers to replace the shifting sand of our lives – the false sense of our perfection – with the truth of His love. He offers us shoes on which we can run, and a carpet on which we can fly.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on January 5, 2012