The dictionary defines “irony” as “incongruity
between what is expected and what actually occurs.” For example, a
convict climbed under the hood of a truck and escaped from prison.
Later he climbed out – only to find himself in the yard of another
prison! That’s irony! We love stories with a surprising twist at
the end, don’t we?
Our text isn’t a narrative, but Jesus is telling
us stories nonetheless – stories that end in pure irony. The poor
become rich. The weepers become laughers. The hated are blessed! Of
course, that’s not the way we expect things to turn out. From our
perspective, evil lumbers like a tank, crushing the weak and burying
flowers in the mud. But if we can see with Jesus’ eyes, there’s more to
the story. In fact, Jesus came to bring The Great Reversal. Let’s
look at the two great ironies of which He spoke.
Irony #1: The weak become strong.
Jesus was talking to a great crowd on “a level
place” (6:17). These were the poor, the hungry, and the hated. They
were the ahm ha’aretz, the people of the land. They were regarded as
unlearned and impious. As Del Reeves once sang, “Yes, I’ve arrived.
This must be the bottom!”
As far as the rabbis of Jesus’ day were concerned,
these people had so arrived. They were the dregs of the society, the
bottom of the barrel. Imagine a great crowd of shabbily dressed,
foul-mouthed, AIDS victims gathered in the vicinity of the Lincoln
Memorial. The picture is virtually identical.
They’d been tossed out with the garbage. They
lived without hope. They were only waiting for their story to peter
out in its predetermined puddle of powerlessness. But, wait, what’s
this we hear? Blessed are you poor, you hungry, you sad, you hated!
Yours is the heartiest laughter around the richest table! Yours is
the true Happy Ending!
Is this flighty or what? As C.S. Lewis said in
another context, if the speaker isn’t God in human flesh, asinine
fatuity is the kindest description of his words. But Jesus isn’t
giving limp-wristed “comfort.” He’s already demonstrated His power.
He not only helps with His words, He heals with his touch. This is a
man worth listening to.
So what’s He telling us? He’s saying we are never
closer to the heart of God than when our hearts are broken. He’s
saying we can never fully trust God until our cupboard is bare. He’s
saying that the poor and the downtrodden are in a remarkable
position, lying on their backs in the mud: They can see up! What
Meanwhile, what of the rest of humanity? What of the comfortable and the well fed?
Irony #2: The strong become weak.
I hate to admit it but, as an American, I’m one of
the strong I’m not on that “level plain” with the weak, but up high
with the Kings of the Hill. I must realize the dangers of my
position. Here, the ironies abound.
The full refrigerator into which I plunge makes me
fatter, even as it starves my spirit. The medical care I demand heals
my body, but does nothing for my soul. My enviable comic book
collection, yellowing in its boxes, serves as a stark picture of a
life closeted away from the sad and the suffering. As Jesus asks me
elsewhere, He asks all of us strong people: “What does it profit a man
if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”
The story that starts so cheerfully can end so
tragically. The story that runs through pages so dark they strain
our eyes to read can suddenly brighten into eternal morning. There’s
delicious irony for you! Let’s be wise to our position. Let’s sing
this song – and ponder its truth:
And now, let the weak say I am strong!
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us
Sermon brief provided by: Gary Robinson, a Church of Christ
minister in Conneautville, PA.