I’ve been experiencing a bit of discontent these days. Not that kind of discontent where three pairs of shoes just aren’t enough or $10 million a year doesn’t go as far as it used to; I’m discontent because when I look at my life, I know without a doubt I am not living up to my fullest God-given potential. If my current life were a movie, I would walk out of it and demand my money back. While recently praying about this, trying to dig down and unearth why this was, clarity leapt out at me: I’m quite comfortable where I’m at.
In a teaching moment, Jesus says, amazingly, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
He then follows up with another stunner: “Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
My first reaction is to ask whether or not Jesus is against comfort, but that’s a secondary question; Jesus’ words must be understood in the context of who he was and what he was doing in those moments. The context is that of an agent of the Kingdom of Heaven and herald of its good news, news that would churn into hope in the hearts of the oppressed. It’s noteworthy that, in Jesus’ ministry, while the poor were more receptive to the good news, it was met with more resistance when conveyed to the affluent.
If you’re sitting in the dark and a light appears, you perceive the contrast; a light appearing in a lit room is not as noticeable. Those struggling to make ends meet, make it through the day, who don’t have adequate resources, or are waiting for something good to happen, perhaps they have a sharper perspective; when good news shows up, they recognize the grace in it because, deep down, they know it’s what they’ve been waiting for.
When Jesus says “woe” to the comfortable, I believe he’s saying he feels sorry for them and their unfortunate situation which, as it is right now, prevents them from grasping the words that save and living the King’s reality; they don’t hear the grace of the message because their comforts have shrouded their minds and rendered them ignorant of how much they need it.
Some years ago in Korea, I took a train trip with a university group; there were more people than seats so we took turns sitting. At one point I was seated next to a young Japanese lady. Having the chance to converse, we talked about our trip, education, culture; eventually the conversation turned towards the spiritual and I had a chance to talk with her about Jesus and salvation and the Church. She made a comment that always stayed with me—“In Japan, we don’t need God; we have each other.”
The American culture we’ve been raised in says nearly the same thing; when it comes to what can be had, we have everything. Having comforts in our lives isn’t wrong, but its potential can kill our potential in Christ. If you’ve ever studied economics, you’re familiar with the concept of “opportunity cost” which says that every choice you make costs you the opportunity to do something else. Many Christians, including myself, have chosen comforts over opportunities to be truly engaged in Christ’s Kingdom. We’ve come to a place we’re comfortable at, and, since continuing to follow Jesus would mean moving out of that comfort zone, we’ve chosen to appear to be Christians than actually be Christians.
Believing in Jesus doesn’t mean we’re reflecting Jesus; reflecting Christ means following through on choices that truly shine out the truth of who he is, bringing us and others deeper into the reality of what he’s doing. If Jesus was correct when commenting “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God”, doesn’t it make sense for us to remove the comforts which hinder us from giving Christ the level of commitment he deserves?