Disclaimer…this gets a little political
It was a quiet, overcast day…dreary with low-hovering clouds (a day not unlike today). They trickled in slowly and took their spots, some travelling great distances just to be close to this momentous day. The hill filling up with eager souls. They were hoping to hear words of encouragement from their new leader, in this new world order. They gathered, unsure of what the future would hold.
And that’s when Jesus quietly slipped from the crowd and sat down, encouraging others to sit with him. This wasn’t an inauguration of a president, but a foundation of a movement, and in this first (and most powerful teaching) Jesus reveals how outside of the norm he truly is.
In that time, many teachers would roam the countryside, drawing crowds and attention away from the both the government and religious authorities. Charismatic preachers like John the Baptist would preach new understandings of faith, challenging the traditions of the time and the orthodoxy of the faith. Jesus wasn’t special. He was one more face in the crowd. Jesus was one more voice calling for a radical revisioning of the faith. Jesus was one more troublemaker on Rome’s terror watch list. But as he taught, his words were unlike any others:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
For those poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who were meek were not wanted by the Roman Empire, at least not in the way we think. They valued strength. They conquered and established emperors as gods. They allowed Israel to function as a faith so long as it didn’t interfere with how Rome did business.
Jesus, in preaching that the overlooked would inherit the earth, was not to pander to those poor on the hillside, but to undermine the rulers of his war driven time. For those poor, and poor in spirit, Jesus declares that God has not forgotten about you. Though the world has moved on, you are precious in God’s sight.
In fact, Rome did want the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek. Rome wanted them downtrodden and underfoot, because a depressed people are an easily controlled people. People who don’t believe themselves worthy (of blessing) are no threat, and are easily forgotten. People who don’t believe change is possible, give up easily.
And in the wake of presidential inaugurations, and the “forgetting” and deletion of important documents on LGBTQ relationships and climate change science, it seems even more important to hear these powerful words of Jesus. So let us hear these words again, except this time, we’ll use the words of Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, who offered them on a different hill, Capital Hill, to a different crowd, those attending the inauguration on Friday. He said:
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
It’s not as nicely put as the New Revised version that was read today…but what I found fascinating is that it puts the impetus to God to act. It might be assumed that God performs the blessing upon those poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, but it certainly takes the power from our hands to bring about that blessing. (But I’ll speak to that next week…) What it also does is in reading these words this way, it lets governments off the hook for taking care of the poor, the mourning, the humble, which is ironic at the inauguration of this particular government. We shouldn’t look down our noses too far though…this country (in fact just a couple cities over elected Rob Ford.)
I may be jaded, but I think we give over too much of our power to our governments to bring about the best change for people. It might just because I’m living in Ontario at this moment in time. We convince ourselves that government is often the only way to enact sweeping change, but on that hillside in Judea, Jesus’ change was much more pervasive. For those in that moment experiencing deep fear of a distant God, mistrust of a society that at best took advantage of widows and orphans and at worst forgot them, Jesus’ hope is infectious. Let’s say, at most, he directly affected maybe, what, ten thousand people in his lifetime? Even if we double it, it’s not much – not even a percent of the ancient world’s population. Yet the hope in Jesus’ message is powerful. The threat to the establishment was evident. You can almost feel it as he moves down his list,
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
as the crowd seems to warm to this vision of a new world, blessed in their living and in their loving.
Imagine hearing that for the first time, your head no longer staring at your feet, kicking at the dust. You lift up your head to hear more, to read his lips, to see how his words illumined the hearts of all those present. You lift your head out of the shadows of your life to allow the sunlight of God to kiss your forehead, and proclaim you blessed. Not those in power. Not those who made their burnt offerings and confessions before God. Not those so obviously blessed by God. Not those who fell in line, but the millions who marched yesterday, not just because of Trump…but because of the need for all of us to work together to envision a world of hope. As one of the organizers of the Toronto march said, “this is not about Trump, this is about speaking out for the kind of world we want to live in”
It seems more important, now more than ever, that we need to come together to share a vision of a world we want to live in. A world where we can speak our own minds about hydro bills and language disputes and disagree without derision. A world where we can continue to push the boundaries of discrimination and respect, yet still try call one another sisters and brothers. I am proud to live in a country that is known for its diversity and its diverse opinions, that doesn’t (often) give into fear. And that seems a lot of back patting for a government that still struggles with equal representation, because even the states managed to get a visible minority to the White House before we did (to the Prime Minister’s seat). And our treatment of First Nations people is often worse than the American treatment of African-Americans.
We are not there yet. But as we look at our feet and kick at the dust…we know we are not alone. In this feeling of not-there-yet-ness we finds others like us, the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the humble, the people God will use to transform the suffering of this world, because “suffering… [the experience of] pain [as] that the world is not as you want it to be,” is the biggest proponent for change.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
“as difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future…When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I want to go out to that same hillside, join in with the crowds listening to those words of hope, and lift my head out of the shadow of despair, to allow the clouds of life to part to allow the sunlight of God to kiss my forehead, and proclaim me blessed. I want to look around and see that same sunlight bless those around me.
For in the power of that proclamation, may we trust in the call that God has placed within all of our lives, that we are blessed, in order that we might become a blessing for others
(Zechariah 8:13, Genesis 12:2).