Summary: Jesus as a teacher of wisdom, and how God’s wisdom is "upside down" compared to the wisdom of the world.
Jesus The Sage – “Portraits of Christ” series
Steve Simala Grant - Feb. 2/3, 2002
I have a picture here taken in Disney World, outside of the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” pavillion. I want you to look at it closely: What’s wrong with this picture?
Look closely at the waterfall. Think for a moment – what happens when water falls? It splashes. Where in the picture is water splashing? At the top! The waterfall is upside down. That is actually what it is known as – “The Upside-Down Waterfall.”
Today I want to take a look at another portrait of Jesus – Jesus the Sage or Wisdom Teacher. I want to contrast the wisdom of Jesus with the wisdom of our world, the values Jesus taught and the values our world teaches. And we will see that the Kingdom of Jesus is truly a Kingdom Upside-Down.
What is a “Sage”? Quite simply, a Sage is a very wise person, one to whom others go for guidance and direction. Often they were teachers, sometimes simply people whom others would go to for advice and counsel when facing difficult decisions. Books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and even Song of Songs are known to us as “Wisdom Literature,” and are typical examples of the kind of teaching that would come from a Sage.
Our Portraits of Christ series would not be complete without looking at this aspect of Jesus – Jesus as Wisdom Teacher (or Sage). It is not as familiar or maybe as obvious as Jesus as Prophet and Priest and Suffering Servant or Suffering King, the portraits we have looked at so far, but it is an important picture. I particularly want to spend time on this portrait because the Wisdom of Jesus is so radically different from the wisdom of our world. Probably the one place where we see this most clearly is in the Beatitudes, Matt. 5:1-12.
The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12):
These are exactly the kind of statements we would expect from a Sage: short words of wisdom – easy to remember, to the point. But as we reflect on the content of them, we see how radical these words of wisdom really are.
Each starts with the word “Blessed.” Some translations use the word “happy,” but the idea is far more than the feeling we associate with “happy.” Probably the best way for me to describe it is to do it from God’s perspective, for us to understand the word in the context of “favored (or gifted) by God;” and to understand here then that Jesus is referring to our ultimate well-being, to a state of spiritual joy because God’s favor is upon us. It doesn’t mean “lucky,” or “fortunate,” or “given the ideal now.” Each of these beatitudes look longer term, and point out what the end result is.
Pope John Paul was speaking to a group of teens in the Holy Land in March of 2000. He made an acute observation about our culture, and whom it is that appear “blessed.”
(Pope John Paul II) Christ’s Beatitudes
Blessed are the proud Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are the violent Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are those who prosper at any cost Blessed are the meek
Blessed are the unscrupulous Blessed are those who hunger after righteousness
Blessed are the pitiless Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the devious Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are those who fight Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are the persecutors Blessed are the persecuted
I think he makes a good case – in our culture, those who are proud get promoted, the violent get there way, those who are unscrupulous and devious and who don’t care about the cost often end up with the most prosperity, they often get the promotions. Those are many of the things, if modern entertainment is any indication, that our society values and holds in high esteem.
J. B. Phillips wrote a similar critique, called: “The People’s Beatitudes: Happy are the pushers for they get on in the world. Happy are the hard-boiled for they never let life hurt them. Happy are they who complain for they get their own way in the end. Happy are the blase for they never worry over their sins. Happy are the slave drivers for they get results. Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world for they know their way around. Happy are the troublemakers for they make people take notice of them.”
Contrast that with Jesus’ list. Blessed are the poor in spirit (luke says simply “the poor”): these are those people who recognize their dependence on God, who recognize that all they have and are is a gracious gift of God. This is the opposite of the person who feels they “have it all together,” that has life under control and can manage everything on their own, with no need of God. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs not to them, but to the poor. That is upside-down.