Saturday, July 14, 2012

07/14 - A Day Shaped by a Night of Prayer

Luke 6:12-26

Sometimes we think everything was easy for Jesus. He just knew what to do and knew when and how to do it. But like us, he needed help and guidance, so he prayed, not for a few moments, but for hours, lasting through the night.

It may seem odd he was praying so passionately at this time. His ministry was very successful and exciting. The crowds were large, coming from all over the country, from Judea and Jerusalem in the south of the country and Tyre and Sidon in the northern coastal region. His healings were dramatic—people could just touch him and be healed—and his preaching was powerful and attractive to the crowds. With this success, many of us would have not thought to pray, especially for all night.

Although we don’t know what Jesus prayed about, we can guess that he prayed for his ministry, for insight into hearts and minds of people, and for guidance about what to teach. He undoubtedly sought direction in selecting apostles. Certainly the night of prayer with gave him clarity about his courses of action.

Jesus immediately called together his dedicated followers and picked twelve to be apostles, part of an inner circle. Likely he talked to them a while about their new roles before leading them to a good place from which to teach.

His teaching started oddly with the statements about blessings and woes[1], which probably he was led to do in answer to his prayers the previous night. At first we may think the blessings and woes were prescribed actions for Jesus’ listeners, telling them to strive for certain life conditions. Analysis of the Jesus’ language shows this was not his intention.

He divided humanity into two groups: one consisting of people who are poor, hungry, and crying and are hated, excluded, and rejected; another consisting of those who are rich, well-fed, laughing, and accepted. And counter to common sense, he said that the first group was blessed and that there was woe on the second group.

Careful reading of the text shows he was not prescribing behavior but describing the way life works. He knew that hungry and unpopular people have hearts more open to the kingdom of God and thus are blessed. Rich and popular people often have satisfied hearts and are not seeking spiritual things, so woe is on them. However, he also knew life was unpredictable and situations changed. People now hungry may soon be satisfied and those now well-fed may someday go hungry. He knew the fickleness of humans and that popular, accepted people can fall out of favor and vice-versa.

Did Jesus really want people to be poor and hungry, to cry instead of laugh, to try to be hated, excluded, and rejected? No. He gave the blessings and woes to describe the truth about life and to open his listeners’ minds and hearts to the real, deep truths

[1] The blessings and woes he gave that day differ some from those in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). Like any good preacher, Jesus had a body of good sermon points to choose from, and on this day he sensed the need for a slightly different opening than in the earlier sermon.