In the Superman comics there is a planet called Bizarro World. It is a world where everything is the opposite of planet earth. Instead of being a round planet it is a cube. Instead of loving beauty they praise ugliness. As I read the Gospel today it seems to me that Jesus is describing Bizarro World.
“Blessed are you who are poor,
“Blessed are you who are hungry,
“Blessed are you who weep
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you
“But woe to you who are rich,
“Woe to you who are full,
“Woe to you who are laughing,
“Woe to you when all speak well of you,
“Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt”. (Luke 6:20-31)
This is so opposite to our understanding of what it means to be blessed. It is so opposite to how we feel we should act towards to those who hate us – to those who curse and abuse us. It is so opposite to how we react when someone strikes us on the cheek or takes something that belongs to us. It is so opposite to how we believe a God who loves us should treat us.
But that’s how God works and unless we understand this we won’t understand what is happening in the world and we won’t understand what is happening in our own lives. Sadly, many people’s faith is challenged and sometimes destroyed when they go through difficult times wondering why if God loves them so much that he allows so much suffering in the world and particularly in their own lives.
One of the things we must avoid at all costs is the understanding that is popular in some churches that if you had enough faith then you can avoid suffering and in fact enjoy riches as a sign of God’s blessings. Many TV evangelists promote this thinking and as an act of faith they ask you to send them your money and God will bless you. That should immediately ring alarm bells when we read what Jesus said in today’s bible reading. The classic example in point with this sort of thinking is – could Jesus have avoided his suffering and death if he had more faith?
In the church today we commemorate what is known as All Saints Day. It is the day when we remember and give thanks to God for the life of our loved ones who have died. Again, that sounds like something out of Bizarro World – thanking God for the death of a loved one.
But let us remember that God works in the opposite. And out of death God brings life – new life in heaven. As Jesus says when comforting Mary and Martha at the news of their brother Lazarus’s death: Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die. (John 11:25)
So again, God works through the opposite where the world sees death but God brings life. To understand God’s power we need to understand how God uses the opposite through human weakness. As St Paul says: God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Even in the church we need to understand what is going on because many are becoming very despondent believing that the church is failing because of its perceived weakness. But that’s where the church’s strength is hidden. That’s where it has always been hidden as St Paul says; The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The cross represents everything the world rejects: it represents failure, shame and death. So when the world sees a few splashes of water in baptism and asks, what is the point – we see the power of God who says – Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved from the perils of hell and brought to eternal life in heaven. (Mark 16:16)
When the world sees us gather around a table to receive a piece of bread and a sip of wine they ask – how can that solve my problems? How can that undo all the suffering and misery in the world and yet this is where God has hidden all his power and authority until he returns on Judgment Day to judge evil and bring justice to those who have suffered injustice in their lives.
God is a God of opposites. And in particular in death God has hidden eternal life. Under the shame and defeat of Jesus Christ he has hidden his glory through the victory over death. Under the weakness of the church God has hidden all his true power as Paul says in our reading: God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:11-23)
What our eyes see is not the true reality. In fact it is the opposite of reality. It is a difficult concept to understand especially when we are going through those difficult times. It’s not a natural response to think that God is showing his love and strength at those times especially when grieving a loved one who has died. But that’s what St Paul discovered in his suffering and said – when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
When a loved one dies our automatic response is not one of joy because they are now in heaven. No – those thoughts come later as part of our healing and ensure that we are able to move forward in our suffering and grief.
As St Pauls say, let us not grieve as those who have no hope in Christ. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
And the reason is because “Death has been swallowed up Jesus’ victory.”(1 Corinthians 15:54)
So on this All Saints Day we join with Paul and say: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-56)