The Priorities of Jesus

By Rudra Shivananda

snowman bauble

As we are rushed forward by consumerism to yet another Christmas and therefore the approach of a new year, it is timely to review one of the basic tenets of the Lord Jesus’s teachings, the beatitudes, and decide whether and how it may affect our actions. Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men should hate you, isolate you, blame you, and remove your identity because of me, for your reward will be great in the hereafter.

It is easy to imagine that Jesus is somehow exhorting humanity to abandon their livelihood and duties to follow his teachings in exchange for some future reward after death. It becomes more difficult to interpret this passage from Luke 6 which is called the Sermon on the Plain when it is usually overshadowed by the longer passage in Matthew called Sermon on the Mount which has eight beatitudes.

This passage makes it clearer that Jesus was addressing his twelve disciples especially since in the narrative it is following his choosing of the apostles. Even though he was surrounded by many others who were seeking him for healing, he specifically looked at his close disciples when he gave this teaching. This indicates that the teaching was not for the masses but for sincere spiritual seekers. However, it can be applied to a wider audience if we look at it from the perspective of balancing one’s priorities.

It is important to understand that Jesus was not applauding the poor for the sake of their poverty – there many people who are in poverty for many diverse karmic reasons. What is the reason that many sincere spiritual seekers encounter financial difficulties? It is because they’ve given their priorities to seeking spiritual truths over material benefits.

Jesus was stating the fact that his disciples were poor since they’d left their livelihood to follow him and letting them know that they were benefiting in accumulating spiritual wealth. Very few seekers can balance their material needs with their spiritual goals and have financial stability but it is possible and as long as one makes the effort, one has the blessings. Jesus was not making such a simplistic statement that those who have no food now will have food after death! He was talking about the hunger of his disciples for God, for their true Self, for higher consciousness and for liberation from suffering – it is this hunger that drives the spiritual student to meditate day after day, year after year and to seek after the saints and sages.

Jesus was promising his disciples that their hunger for God will be satisfied. Another characteristic of a sincere spiritual seeker is the grief of separation from her true Self – the isolation of the ego-consciousness from higher consciousness. This grief is another driving force that impels the disciple to move ever forward towards his goal.

The consequence for those who follow the hunger for their own essential Being…for the Truth, is to be reviled by those who are following the material goals of life. We are living in a very materialistic society where there is no allowance for those who are exploring and seeking a different reality than those presented to the masses by those who control the media. The real spiritual seeker becomes an outsider to society.

Of course, it is not my intention to extol poverty due to the searching for God, hunger (even for God), grief from our separation of the Self, or marginalizing by society. However, it is instructive to examine these issues in light of one’s current cultural and personal situation. Jesus was addressing his disciples at a particular space and time and we need to extract the lesson from that milieu and apply our perspective.

One lesson that everyone can take heart in is that there is no reason to feel anxiety or shame if one’s material life is not as developed as some of our friends and neighbors, as long as you are doing your best in light of balancing the spiritual side of life. The greatest lesson as far as I’m concerned is that to achieve the goals of realizing the kingdom of God, of satisfying one’s spiritual hunger and achieving happiness, one will have to make some adjustment to one’s life and re-set our priorities.  For those who are intent on their spiritual goals, an extra effort will yield very high results as I’ve explained elsewhere. Let’s listen to Jesus with our hearts and get our priorities straight.

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