Upside-Down and Right-Side Up

Those of you who have been reading and learning the gospel of Jesus Christ–and especially those who have been trying to live it out–have learned this:

Jesus doesn’t measure things the same way the world does. Not success, power, wealth, honor, justice, sin, forgiveness, or even love.

upside down photo of a woman

Sometimes it seems to be an upside-down gospel, because Jesus’ way is opposite, the inverse of the world’s way. I’d prefer to think that the world’s way is upside-down, and Jesus’ way sets it right for those who dare to believe it. It is a way of being in the world without conforming to it. We can be tax-paying, law-abiding residents of the United States of America, with citizenship papers that say, “Kingdom of Heaven.”

Granted, this can be a bit dizzying at times.

I have a couple of biblical examples. The first is Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner who hires workers to harvest the grapes. He employs a crew very early in the morning and promises them a certain wage for the day’s work. At nine, noon, three pm, and again at five pm, when he finds men standing idle in the street, he sends them out to join the rest. At day’s end, they all line up to receive their wages, and are all paid the same amount.

Outrageous, right?

We are well conditioned to the way the world measures fairness. We hold it to be self-evident that our reward should always be proportional to the measure of time, effort, or talent we have invested. The workers who began their workday before the sun came up cried, “These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (Matt. 20:12).

Is Jesus unjust? Would you hire him as your union negotiator? No, of course Jesus is not unjust. He is the only one who always judges rightly.

Jesus says that it is the master’s prerogative how he wants to deal with his servants. Those who arrive early are blessed in doing so. Those who arrive late are equally blessed for showing up. It is not about how long we’ve been part of the work—it is that we have been welcomed into God’s vineyard at all. God’s sovereignty in our salvation is a key principle in the kingdom of God. Sinners, tax collectors, and latecomers to the party still get to eat at the Master’s table. This is only unfair when judged by a worldly, religious spirit.

The second is Jesus’ parable of the two servants. The first owes his master a huge sum of money. When the master tries to collect, the servant falls at his feet and begs him to forgive the debt, and he does. This servant goes out an finds another servant who owes him a small debt. He demands that his fellow servant pay up, or he will send him to debtor’s prison. The master hears of this, and calls the first servant in. He reprimands him severely, saying “You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33). The master sent this servant to prison until he could sell everything he owned and repay the debt.

What I take from this is that it is not the size of the debt that is of concern to the Lord, but the command to forgive. His forgiveness of our incalculable sin debt makes it a bit ridiculous that we would not be willing to forgive those who owe us something. God’s mercy toward us is a key principle in the kingdom of God, and it compels us to forgive one another, whatever the size of the debt.

Those who have been forgiven much are often those who love and forgive the most (Luke 7:47). This is only illogical when judged by a worldly, hard-hearted spirit.

There are many more examples of the upside-down and right-side up in the Bible, and I love to find them. It builds my faith and courage to be reminded that Jesus knows we are living in an upside-down world. I look for his instruction in the truths that turn us right-side up.

Bless you, beautiful kingdom people!

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