Sunday, 17 February 2013

Looking for Mr. Blessed - 1

Matthew 5 v 3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’

This post is based on one of a few talks I have done at St. Luke’s on the beatitudes; those very familiar statements from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Those statements that we love to quote but, often, have no idea what they mean!

Before we get going on this one we need to explore what the beatitudes actually are. They are clearly promises of happiness or blessing in response to certain values. But who is he talking about and when will all this happen?

One view is that they are simply promises of what life will one day be like when we are playing our celestial harps in heaven. So if you are ‘poor in spirit’ – whatever that means – don’t worry because one day you will leave this place for paradise. Now there may be some truth there but it mainly misses the point. Jesus made it clear that he had come to change things ‘now’. In the following chapter he tells us to pray – ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth’. From the moment he began to teach he was beginning a process of transformation. In his first public statement he said –

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And he finished by saying - “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4 NIV).

So we are not talking about a vague future. These promises are in fact part of a manifesto about how we should live now. Note how subversive these statements are. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek… That is not our experience. We are more familiar with – blessed are those whose numbers come up, who get to win X Factor, who are the front cover of Hello! These statements suggest something new and revolutionary – ‘Life Jim but not as we know it.’

Our normal worldview is inverted. These are not comforting words about heaven will be like. We need to read them as if we are revolutionary conspirators working to change the world.

So starting here; who are the poor in spirit? Is it those who are materially poor? It certainly includes them but suggests something wider. One great translation is ‘those who are bent down’. Those who have little or nothing on which to be self reliant. Those who are therefore free from our familiar weight of expectation. We all know this.

The ones who have the looks, the wealth, the fame, the material success have a far harder time learning to trust God and others. It is that trust which can lead to real peace. Jesus himself reminds us that nature does not worry about anything! So we are talking about a stripping down of the baggage to allow the essential ‘me’ simply to be and to trust.

The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr talks of a liminal space. Liminal means threshold, a place of emptying enabling us to move forwards into a new place.

‘Many spiritual giants have tried to live their lives in permanent liminality. They try to live on the margins and on the periphery of the system so they will not get sucked into its illusions and pay offs. They deliberately live off balance from what most of us take for normal or common sense. Think of the radical poverty of St. Francis, the inner city hospitality of Dorothy Day, the lives of almost all missionaries. They know that some kind of displacement from business as usual is the only way to ensure deeper wisdom and broader compassion.’

We need to remove our layers of security like the dragon scales that Aslan tears from Eustace in CS Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We are of course afraid of doing that in case we find scary monsters! In fact we find our true self, a beloved and highly valued child of God. And it is that child who learns to trust and not to live in a state of stress. And then we begin to see why that is a blessing!

But we cannot forget that a kingdom is also a community. As we learn to find our true inner self and the dignity that goes with it, so we begin to share that with others. As we free ourselves from the expectations that we lay on each ourselves, so we must lay aside the expectations we have of each other. By what standards to we value others – are they of our group, our faith, or political persuasion, our age group? That will ultimately lead to a very narrow group who deserving of our time and effort. But what if we stripped all of that away and considered everyone that we meet as being a very important person – not because of what they do but because of who they are?

Then we might begin to understand why it is good news to be ‘poor in spirit.’

Full talk and others available here -

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