When you were a kid, did you ever lay your head off the side of a couch or chair and try to reorient your mind to think the ceiling was the floor? Please don’t tell me I am the only one??? If you have not tried this I highly recommend it. For those of you who have, you know there is a point when your mind actually starts to reorient to thinking the ceiling is the floor. It takes some time, but when you get to that point a whole new world of, in this case, ‘imaginary’ possibilities open up. Light fixtures become little fires, vaulted ceilings become slides, a ceiling fan a merry-go-round, tables and chairs become ceiling fixtures and gravity are a thing of little consequence. None of these imaginary possibilities are even imaginable without the thought or suggestion of hanging your head upside down and allowing your mind to be reoriented. This is a large part of the role, biblically speaking, of a prophet. No, they did not encourage people to hang their heads upside down. But they did suggest the world could be a different place and offered alternatives that encouraged and challenged the status quo–compelling people to imagine the world could be different then it was. This is especially the case when it came to oppressive systems. These systems so influenced people’s thinking that the poor and oppressed came to believe there were really no alternatives, but to remain poor and oppressed.
It seems that human propensity is to accept the status quo. The only exception to this is the oft perceived flip-flop (usually by force) of who is rich and who is poor until, of course, the cycle repeats. But, neither option really gets us anywhere. What we needed is a radical reorientation– a total rethinking of the possibilities. Jesus, though much more than a prophet, is a prophet. As such, he offers a radical reorientation. Jesus teaches us to imagine an entirely different world– one dominated by love and within that world of love, he offers an alternative way of confronting the wrongs of society. He teaches us to ‘turn the other cheek,’ ‘give the shirt off your back’ and ‘go the extra mile,’ and not for friends but, counter-intuitively, for the very ones who are slapping us, taking our shirts and forcing us to carry their bags!!! Importantly, these are not, as some have taught, examples of giving in or being complacent to injustice. Rather, they are responses to injustice that dismantle its power at its core.
In a world that honored power and its lording, Jesus taught and lived a radical new perspective on what should bring honor and in turn, what should bring shame. He teaches us that honor should not be received for perpetrating or perpetuating evil, but rather, for refusing to do so. He teaches us how to confront injustice with a love that reveals that honor is not a matter of lording power over another. And, he taught this not just with words but with action. Take the irony of the cross. The cross demanded honor to Rome and shame for anyone upon it. It was Jesus’ confronting of injustices that brought about his crucifixion and it is through his enduring of that crucifixion and not fighting evil with evil that the truth has been revealed. In turn, what was once an object that demanded honor for whoever wielded it and shame for whoever was upon it has been stripped of its power and transformed into an object of honor to Him who has endured it. “You have heard it said, an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not avenge an evil person….love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That is a perspective worthy of honor!
Jesus’ perspective on honor was truly radical in his day and while it may not sound quite as radical today, the fact that it is seldom lived proves it still is. Yes, it is true, we still have lots to learn as we let Jesus reorient our lives and teach us how to live humanly in a loved but broken world.