In this week's passage from Luke's Gospel, we find Jesus at the beginning part of his ministry already turning expectations upside down. Just a few verses earlier in the chapter's opening portion, he calls the first disciples to follow him into ministry by unexpectedly asking them to row into deeper water. This invitation of radical risk is followed quickly by a sequence of events where Jesus cleanses a socially outcast leper and heals a paralytic whose friends are so desperate for him to know Jesus’ transformational power that they lower him through a hole in the roof! Then, in 5:27-32, Jesus befriends Levi, a “tax collector and sinner” who walks away from everything to follow Jesus, and then further shocks religious leaders by hosting a raucous dinner party for “tax men and other disreputable characters.”
Luke’s grouping of these disruptive but transformational stories is no mistake. Within each of these stories is an invitation into a changed life that accompanies a relationship with Jesus. Luke is reminding us that our relationship with Jesus is about the reorientation of our lives, hearts, beliefs, and expectations. What I find especially interesting about Jesus' upside-down Kingdom and the Pharisees' inability to accept it is that we typically think of intelligence primarily as the ability to think and learn. We celebrate and hold in high esteem those who can absorb and digest large or complex amounts of information and apply it to life. And thinking and learning are indeed essential and necessary skills—they should be valued.
But this passage suggests that there is another set of cognitive and spiritual gifts that might matter more: the ability to rethink and relearn what we have come to expect or believe to be true. Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were a radical rethinking of who God is and how God acts. Encounters with Jesus liberate people from lives and beliefs that are too small for the fullness of life God desires.
In his new book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, organizational psychologist Adam Grant writes, “I cannot think of a more vital time for rethinking. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, many leaders around the world were slow to rethink their assumptions…In the past year we’ve all had to put our mental pliability to the test. We have been forced to question assumptions that we have long take for granted: that it is safe to go to the hospital, eat at a restaurant, hug our parents or grandparents . . . Many people have rethought their views on racial justice and their roles in fighting it. Despite these shared experiences, we live in an increasingly divisive time. For some people a single mention of kneeling during the national anthem is enough to end a friendship. For others a single ballot at a voting booth is enough to end a marriage. Calcified ideologies are tearing American culture apart . . .What if we were quicker to make amendments to our own mental constitutions?”
Similarly, I cannot help but wonder what spiritual rethinking, reorientation, and liberation that Jesus might be calling us to in this particular Lenten season? I wonder how often we stand in the way of our spiritual growth, of living more fully into the life God most desires for us, because we prefer the comfort of certainty over the discomfort of doubt and the unfamiliar? And, if we were willing to let go, where and how might God be setting us free?
I believe. Help my unbelief.
Lead me away from death and to new pathways of life. Amen.