Part Three: The Proper Mindset
Art has a way of looking at life and asking questions that sometimes are uncomfortable to ask. In 2002, a movie asked this question, what does a father who needs to get help for his son do when there is nothing else to do? The answer, according to the tagline: Give a father no options, and you leave him no choice. In short, he gets desperate.
The movie is called John Q., named for the lead character named John Q. Archibald, played by Oscar winner Denzel Washington. John’s son, Michael, collapses during a baseball game and is rushed to the hospital. There, the family finds out that Michael has an enlarged heart and will need a transplant. John believes he is insured and that the operation will be covered. What John does not realize is when his company dropped him from full time to part time, they changed his insurance. The operation will not be covered and will cost at least $250,000 with 30% paid up front to be on the waiting list. The family tries to raise the money, but they can raise only a small part. Michael is taken off the waiting list and is soon to be discharged.
At this point, a desperate mother urges a desperate father to do something and he does. Feeling he has no other option, John takes eleven people in the emergency room of the hospital hostage. His demand is simple: put Michael on the waiting list for a heart. A negotiator strikes a deal with John to have Michael put on the list and John releases part of the hostages. Unknown to the negotiator, the police chief sends in a SWAT team one of whom wounds John but is taken hostage in the skirmish.
Finally, Michael is brought to hospital and John reveals his plan has always been to be his son’s donor once the hospital agreed to the surgery by committing suicide. John says goodbye to his son and prepares to kill himself, when his wife finds out that a woman who died hours before in an auto accident is a perfect match for Michael.
While this movie is a critique of the insurance and medical systems in America, it is also a study in desperation. What are you willing to do for those you love when it looks like there is nothing else that can be done? How far are you willing to go to take care of those you love? What cost are you willing to pay for the greater good? John Archibald was willing to risk his life and ultimately give his life, in order to save his son. The man was desperate in a way I should hope no parent has to be but have been.
In our passage today, we see some desperate people. Desperation – that feeling of hoping for the miraculous in the face of the last resort – is what has and does drive many in the scripture passage and many through history – to Jesus. People who are coming to see Jesus to be healed (vv.17-19) and listening to Jesus’ teaching (vv.20-26) are hearing words meant for those desperate for God. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They have come from Jerusalem and Judea to the south, Tyre and Sidon to the north, Jew and Gentile alike.
As he gathers the people and begins to teach, Jesus stands on “a level place,” which can be a reference to places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning.” But level places are also places of renewal, places where the glory of God, his salvation, would be revealed in them.” We think of level places as places where everyone is equal and no one stands above anyone else, places of fairness. In this place, Jesus reaches out to the desperate and places everyone on the same ground so to speak.
In Luke, Jesus is often found saying things in ways we don’t expect. In a world where having wealth and prosperity was a sign of divine favor, Luke records words which teach exactly the opposite. There are four blessings here and four woes: poor-rich, hungry-full, weeping-laughing, rejected-accepted. You will notice that these four dualities – statements that are opposites of one another – mark a change for those who live at the extremes. In the ancient Roman world, the majority, something like ninety-five to ninety-eight percent, lived at the extremes of great wealth and great poverty.
As he talks, Jesus is sharing a truth about poverty, not poverty of spirit as you might expect from the similar passage in Matthew but the soul crushing poverty of hand to mouth, begging, scraping, scrapping to survive poverty. He is talking about people who are suffering now but will one day be filled, joyous, and part of the Kingdom of God. He is talking about moving from desperation to contentment.
How do we live into the values and practices of God’s Kingdom amid the level places of life? If you want to be a church that reaches people, ministers to its community, lives into the true discipleship of following in Jesus’ footsteps, you must be a desperate church. Time after time I have heard stories of megachurches and how they have grown from tiny groups of a few to thousands. The one constant in all those stories was desperation, a desperation for God and a desperation for the community. They became what they were because they got desperate, stayed desperate, and never lost the intensity of that desperation. That doesn’t mean that megachurch is the goal but that desperation is the driving force behind it.
To be blessed does not mean we will not struggle. Luke 6:22-23 says, to be in the community moving towards the Kingdom of God can invite hatred, exclusion, being reviled, and being defamed as others reject the Realm and its witnesses. Many congregations in long-established denominations are in an odd relationship to this passage. They are aware that today’s world is a fractured “level place” in the way we have talked about. But few of these congregations are hungry for (much less desperate for) the level of social and personal transformation implied in Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ is calling his followers to live in their present based on the values and practices of the Kingdom of God. We are called to do the same, to not try to live in the Kingdom on our own strength and will, but God gives us strength by the Holy Spirit.” If you can allow yourself to be changed and molded by the Spirit of God, however, you might think of Jesus’ words this way,
- When you are poor, you are desperate.
- When you are hungry, you are desperate.
- When you weep and mourn, you are desperate.
- When you are hated, excluded, reviled, defamed, all for the sake of the Kingdom, you are desperate.
The question for us is: are we desperate enough to be disciples of Jesus?
Allen, Ronald J. Commentary on Luke 6:17-26. 01 28, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3960 (accessed 02 11, 2019).
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Greene, Joel B., and William H. Willimon, . The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.
 Movie synopsis taken from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Q.)
 (Allen 2019)
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 (Greene and Willimon 2009, p.1248-1249)
 (Craddock 2009, p.87)
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