Clamoring For Seats

Published 6:48 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

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This week’s Super Bowl loss to the Rams will add Bengals’ fans to those who have painful memories each year about this time. We Atlanta fans can still recall the pain of having Tom Brady and the Patriots down by a score of 28-3 after halftime in a recent Super Bowl, only to lose the game.

Have you ever tried to forget something on purpose? How did that work out for you? There are things I remember and there are things I forget. But so far, I’m unsuccessful over a lifetime at forgetting things just because I’d like to. Now just so no one misunderstands, I am not at all speaking to holding a grudge here. That’s not what this is about at all.

So, we can’t forget what is coming down the road in Luke’s gospel after this week’s story chapter 6 verses 17-26, either. We couldn’t forget if we tried, I hope. Many of us have read the story. We recall that later, in chapter 19, Luke is going to show Jesus in the Temple courtyard overturning the tables where the money-changers were operating.

In fact, in case you have tried to make this just a casual thing Jesus did later at the Temple, he’s going to fashion a whip and strike them as he drives them out. Once that image pops into our minds, we can’t detach this little Sermon on the Level Plain in chapter 6 from that. For Luke, it’s a predictor of Jesus’ showdown that will come at Jerusalem, one that has been brewing ever since he turned his face toward Jerusalem.

If we don’t yet understand that, then we may have heard all the stories, but we haven’t paid attention to how the whole thing connects up. Incidentally, so inevitable was this showdown at the Temple with the money-changers that John in his gospel goes ahead and gets it out of the way in chapter 2. Jesus’ first public act after he turns water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. John has Jesus going straight to the Temple in Jerusalem after Cana and cleaning that courtyard out. Beginning of his ministry. End of his ministry. This showdown was coming.

Luke allows Jesus to tell us why, right here in this week’s scripture in chapter 6. It’s because, if we’re self-aware, we know that too many of us humans tend to jockey for seats at tables that Jesus would have turned over. Will Willimon says that this is Jesus’ sermon. He says that actually, Jesus is painting a picture here of who’s “in” and who’s “out” in God’s kingdom. He is declaring what God values and what God is working to do in the world. Jesus is talking about God here more than we may want to realize. A sermon is a sermon only when it’s talking about God, and less about you or me.

Before Jesus walked among us, the prophets sounded these very same priorities on God’s behalf. Go back and read Jesus’ blessings and his woes in this scripture. Check out Isaiah 61. Read Mary’s Song from Luke 1. Read Jesus’ famous Beatitudes in Matthew. It’s all there.

Here’s what we’d better know for the living of our days. To be “blessed” here might not always satisfy the immediate gratification we’ve become so addicted to. Blessing here, and blessing in Jesus’ Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, referred to a realm that God was bringing about. In many ways, God is still of course bringing about that realm to come.

This is what the prophets foresaw God doing in the days still ahead, the ones while they were waiting for Jesus to show up. A Messiah. Do you want to exalt every valley? Do you want to smooth out the rough places so that there’s room for Christ in your life? Do you want to strive to set the crooked straight, so that God has a way made for the kingdom to advance in our world?

This was a warning from Jesus about misplaced values and how terribly opposite we can be of what God was doing here and in realms we know not of beyond. I think we dare not forget. Because what Jesus was saying here is that if you get on the wrong side of these “Blessing and Woe” equations, then really you’re just clamoring for seats at tables Jesus would soon overturn at the Temple itself! Now, none of us want to do that. Do we?