“When many of his disciples heard [Jesus teaching], they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it’” – John 6:60 NRSV
“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable…”
In the 19th century Finley Peter Dunne wrote this axiom in a satirical article describing the work of a newspaper. In the early 20th century, the celebrated theologian, Reinhold Neihbur used this quote to describe the work of the church.
The church is called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Comforting the afflicted is a work most churches tend to gravitate to naturally. The values of care, compassion, and mercy resonate with the gospel’s message of love. Repeatedly, the scriptures call us to care for one another; to hold one another up. Through the centuries, with the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the universal church has set up ministries and institutions built on the conviction that we are to care for the afflicted.
We know what it means to care for the afflicted and we see it as our role as a church. Do we believe that we have a role in afflicting the comfortable?
Over the next week we will look at ways the early church disturbed the prevailing culture of the day. The church confronted broadly accepted cultural norms not because it desired to be contrarian or troublesome but because it sought to follow the call of Christ. Following Christ has meant that throughout history the church did not simply settle in, the church shook things up.
What does it mean to afflict the comfortable? What would it look like?
To get a sense for how to approach these questions we need only return to Christ’s good news for all.
The same love that calls us to care for the afflicted, would certainly call on us to disturb those comforts built upon the exploitation of others. The same compassion that breaks our heart for the broken, disturbs our mind with the question of the true cost of privileges enjoyed.
Ministries of care are gifts for and from the church. Would we ever dare launch a ministry of disturbance?
If we are to grow in our faith then there must always be an edge. There will always be a rub; a place of discomfort that we will wrestle with God about. There will always be a “difficult teaching” that we need to be brave enough to listen to.