The World Turned Upside Down

Today’s Gospel reading comes from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-26). In it, Jesus lays out a vision of the Kingdom of God based on the promise of justice and mercy. The promise makes little sense, however, from an earthly perspective. Jesus calls blessed those who are poor, hungry, suffering, excluded, and denounced as evil “on account of the Son of Man” (22b). “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh” (21).

Their present condition will be turned upside down so that they will inherit the Kingdom. Luke wrote for a Gentile audience. Matthew, who relates a similar discourse in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:3-11), wrote for Jews who had accepted the “New Way” (Acts 9:2). In either case, people must have thought the promise strange.

Throughout history, utopian visions have proved to be dangerous. You only have to consider efforts by religious, millennial, and social groups in Europe and the United States in the past two hundred years to say nothing of earlier attempts to establish a paradise on Earth. The one that is perhaps closest to home is The People’s Temple in Jonestown (1978) in which more than nine hundred people died. Its memory still haunts us.

The biggest problem with the quest for utopia is whose idea of justice and mercy–happiness–will it be based on? Although the relationship between utopia and ideology is not always direct, ideology lurks beneath the surface. Utopias are often built on ideological beliefs and biases. To make matters worse, people consumed by ideology usually have no idea that they are trapped in its closed system. They can’t see past the ideological bent in their noses.

Think of people at the far ends of the political spectrum. Reality exists only through their particular lens. The Left is good at this, because they espouse postmodern, deconstructionist methods right out of Marxist theory. Marx, who turned Hegel upside down, claimed that enslavement of the masses through an economic class system accounted for the world’s suffering. He didn’t say blessed are the poor but cursed are the factory owners.

What comes from this? Anything that eases the suffering of the poor and overturns the class system is justified. In true Machiavellian fashion, the ends justify the means. This is why supposedly responsible legislators can argue for things like restricting speech, eliminating borders, permitting “post-birth” abortions, and retrofitting the domestic infrastructure to the tune of thirty trillion dollars. They justify these positions by pointing to the post-patriarchal/race/class/gender world their policies will create. In fact, the more extreme, the better. After all, no one wants the planet to melt.

Alarmism is a key feature of ideological thinking. Change needs to happen now, and the best way to mobilize the masses is through social media. But the thing about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like is that you don’t have to be literate or discerning to use them. Just create an account and you’re on your way. The medium (i.e., a glowing screen) takes care of the rest. You can become an instant commentator and advocate for your position, candidate, or cause to your heart’s content. And the number of hearts you get in response becomes a measure of the veracity of your position. Persuasion trumps truth. Then again, in this mindset truth does not exist and anything that furthers the cause (e.g., the Prince, Party) is right.

Most scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t advocating the overthrow of the established order, even though he famously threw over the money changers’ tables in the temple. The promise of justice and mercy in Luke and Matthew points to a future Kingdom, one that is here in the person of Jesus but that has not yet been fulfilled. The “not yet” of the promise distinguishes it from ideological obsession. You don’t struggle to establish a new order. You wait for the fulfillment of the promise. It’ll happen. Just not yet.

Peace Love image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. YouTube video Surrender of Lord Cornwallis to Benjamin Lincoln flanked by French (left) and American troops (John Trumbull, oil on canvas, 1820). Tune: The World Turned Upside Down. Happy Presidents’ Day. Still want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance


  1. Ay, Robert…Thank you for such a thoughtful, beautifully written post. Today, I wish I was seated in your classroom and we were talking about your post and the “Blesseds…” as a friend called them.

    Your discussion of the “not yet” Kingdom of God and some of the ways others have seen the Kingdom or fervently believed they were hastening or bringing it into existence has been a defining struggle of my life.

    I was brought to Jesus and the desire to follow him in my life, by the example of persons whom I observed, who felt called by God to spend their lives, in some cases, all of their resources, bringing forth the kingdom that is already among us.

    Since adolescence, I wanted to lay down whatever gifts I had been given, before whomever could use them. I wanted to do this because I hoped that little by little, the kingdom among us would become ever more visible; and it did, it became more and more visible in the communities of hospice, children with handicaps and their families, migrant farm workers, families who lost children through suicide, chronic last breath alcoholics, homeless persons, and on…it became real and visible to me.

    Many persons, friends, mentors, family deeply disagreed with my choices, for many honorable and sincere reasons. And today, I understand more fully those reasons. I have had reason to wonder and doubt that I understood many of the words of Jesus.

    The best way I can make clear the conflict I always had is this: In my life, I had many occasions in which persons needed medicines or doctors for their babies or sick children, or suicidal relatives or food or burial or… I believed that we made the Kingdom just a bit more visible, when we gave what we had; no questions asked. I believed the Kingdom of God had no lack of resources. You may imagine the results.

    I believed that I would suffer no lack of physical or material resources. Arrogant for sure, this belief!

    But for me…I have seen little bits and pieces of the Kingdom of God among us, and in the most unexpected places. I have hoped that we could, by our care, in thousands of ways, make the Kingdom ever more visible.

    Still, Robert, I have doubts that I understood or understand Jesus. I have had to accept that I may be completely wrong, and it is painful because I don’t have all of the time I would like to do things in a better way, perhaps, one of the regrets of getting older:)

    1. Thanks for the comment and your openness, Susan. If I have it right, if the conflict is or was why you chose a life of service and financial struggle instead of, say, going to law school, then I can offer two things.

      First, you have to believe that you were called to your work of service and ministry. To ignore it would have been wasteful and maybe even sinful. Second, I like to remind myself in reflections like this, where doubt gnaws away at me as if I were a hambone, of Lady Macbeth’s comment about not turning around midstream since going back “were as treacherous as sticking to the course.” Something like that.

      Then again, and speaking of midstream, I could be all wet…

      You might want to get Nine Lives (see the Amazon link), since it deals with this question exclusively. That was a shameful move of self promotion, but it’s true.

      1. Robert, the conflict for me has been the degree we are responsible for recognizing, seeing the Kingdom of God, and by that seeing and action, making the Kingdom more visible.

        If the Kingdom of God is already here among us, but not recognized or seen, I believed that my responsibility was to respond in every way possible, Now, so that the Kingdom would be seen and celebrated to a greater degree.

        If the promise is to come, I would be quite arrogant to think that our responses and actions impact the coming of God’s Kingdom among us.

        I apologize that I cannot express myself more clearly and that I am still trying to make clear. I have often thought that I had no way of knowing which responses or whether any response would make a crucial difference for a person with whom I worked. For that reason, I thought that I should be very attentive in case it was.

        I guess the issue is to what degree do we see or make visible or in some way birth the Kingdom of God; our role and responsibility for what we see in the world today? I believed the Kingdom was here, but I will continue to struggle on and be open to further wisdom. Blessings.

        1. Forgive me for saying, but I am reminded of 1 Cor 12: 14-31. We are not the whole body but just a part of the body. You, as a disciple, are not responsible for what the entire body does or does not do. You are one part, so, in my mind, doing that one part well is the only thing you have to do. And out of love, of course.

          So, if you are an ear, stop trying to see…

          If this contradicts your own comment several weeks ago about ears seeing and eyes hearing, then maybe that’s the point. Again, please forgive me, but it sounds like you are taking on the world when all you have to do is hear. Not that that’s easy at all…!

          If you unsubscribe, I’ll understand…

          1. Thank you so much, Robert, for taking the time to respond to me, to dialogue. I can imagine how busy you are, and the gift of your time and hospitality is more valuable than you know.

            I have felt that I am not so much commenting but in dialogue with your posts. That may not have been the purpose you had for your blog. I have never interacted with a blog or in written form.

            Please, if I am not following your blog appropriately, you may tell me. Please forgive me if I have transgressed boundaries and I’ll be off. I am very experienced in some things; totally inexperienced in others, such as communication- a skilled and willing ear:). Susan

        2. Susan, I didn’t see a space for me to respond to your recent note, so I am doing it here. Please know that I welcome all kinds of comments: reactions, dialogue, complaints, etc. It is not a problem at all for you to write back and forth in dialogue. For my part, I was just trying to offer something worthwhile. If it sounded curt or annoyed, that was not my intention at all. I am very glad to see you taking time to read and digest these posts. Actually it’s an honor for me to read your comments.

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