I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn to humbly obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be holy.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of peers;
I was given weakness, that I might know the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy my life;
I was given Life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I hoped for.
I am, amongst men, most richly blessed.
I came upon this poem the other day, sorting through some old files I’d assembled in the days of my youth as a Christian. I was impressed again by one thing in particular: the plain, counter-intuitive nature of genuine Christianity.
It just doesn’t make sense logically.
Which can be so intriguing as to force us to take another, deeper look …
When Jesus began his ministry, it was primarily as a simple rabbi: he had chosen a small group of 12 men whom he taught as he preached to the small towns and villages of northern Israel, the district known as Galilee (think of the Cariboo, here in B.C.).
He seems to have spent virtually no time in the larger populated centers like Jerusalem (other than on the prescribed ‘pilgrimage festivals’ like Passover).
Pretty counter-intuitive; to go where people weren’t with a group no one especially had heard of before …
As his popularity as an itinerant evangelist grew, people flocked to hear him, and to observe the wondrous effects his preaching had on some who listened.
Many were healed of physical and mental infirmity as they accepted Jesus’ teaching; notorious personalities, tax collectors — even some of the occupying Roman establishment who merely heard him preach — were converted.
Illogical; there was no ‘religion’ involved in this at all …
When the number of people drawn to hear grew into the hundreds and even thousands, Jesus changed the way the messages were framed.
Now, instead of pure Biblical exposition, he told stories, “parables,” which inevitably came to an end in some way which surprised, often shocked and certainly challenged.
The stories were drawn from everyday life, yet appealed to the reality of another ‘Life’, in such memorable ways that they could not be forgotten.
Yet, they defeated easy understanding.
People went away scratching their heads … a very odd evangelistic strategy.
We have a record, in Matthew’s gospel, Ch. 5-7, of one extended piece of teaching given by Jesus to at least 5,000 people.
It begins with a series of the most perplexing statements I think have ever been uttered — The ‘Beatitudes’: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are the meek; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven … for they shall inherit the Earth.”
This makes no sense at all.
Yet if true, it turns the whole world upside down.
Or even better, Jesus teaching shows us that the world which we live in is upside down!
Christianity defies logic.
The central truths are impossible to explain: how, for instance, could Jesus Christ be human and divine at the same time, have existed from all eternity and be born in a stable, die on a cross and be restored to a glorified life three days later?
These truths must rather be accepted. And once that happens, once they begin to take deeper and stronger root within us, then the inner logic of God’s grace and his purpose of love become crystal clear.
Then we discover that what we once believed was solid and safe is in fact shifting and of no ultimate comfort or security whatsoever. Instead, the teaching which we once may have found nonsense or perplexing will have for us an inner sense and the irresistible, costly appeal of eternity itself:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” Matthew 13.44.
Guy Bellerby is the Rector of Christ’s Church Oceanside (Anglican Network in Canada).