Summary: Father Dave on Jesus’ Sermon on the plain, and the blessings of the poor.
I’ve had a tough week:
On Monday I was robbed again. My wallet has been stolen by the same guy two weeks running!
I had to deal this week with the painful letter written in our Diocesan Newpaper regarding our legal situation.
More serious by far is my dad’s situation in hospital
Perhaps most tragic of all - the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel.
I’ve got a picture of Sharon, and pictures of other scenes from the current crisis in the Middle-East. These pictures reflect an enormous human tragedy - great suffering, great pain, great injustice.
How do you feel about these people we see being brutalised - would you call them innocent victims or are they violent terrorists themselves? You might think of them as religious fanatics? Or are they simply as helpless victims of a situation beyond their control? One thing you would most likely not call these people, I think, is ’blessed’. But it seems that Jesus does: ’Blessed are you poor’ says Jesus, ’blessed are you who weep’.
These words are amongst the most well known words Jesus ever spoke. Admittedly, they are better known in the form in which we find them in Matthew’s gospel - ’Blessed are the poor in Spirit’. And yes, that seems to make a little more sense to me - ’Blessed are the poor in Spirit’. I’m never quite sure what it means to have poverty of spirit, but it sounds like a blessed state - more blessed, at any rate, than simple downright pain and poverty.
The temptation is to romanticise poverty at this point - ’Ah, the poor! They might not have the money we do, but they have a depth of spirit and a closeness to God that we just can’t appreciate’. That may be true of course, but it doesn’t make poverty pleasant, and I don’t think that it has anything to do with what Jesus is talking about.
It’s easy to romanticise poverty when you’re not poor. It’s like those who go on about how easy people in prison have it - ’they’re much better off than I am - three square meals a day and all the comforts of home?’ A man in Long Bay said to me once ’These people say how us guys are so much better off than they are, but I haven’t seen any of them come and offer to take my place yet!’ Prison looks great at a distance. Poverty can look very romantic at a distance.
’Poverty is a state of mind’ someone told me. ’No’ is my reply, ’it’s a state of vulnerability’.
I had an ’ah ha’ experience in this regard some years ago. I was raising awareness on living conditions in ’3rd world’ countries with TEAR. We held a sleep-out in Sydney Square - myself and two girls - in a cardboard shack, created to resemble the shanties of the urban poor. I took the Friday night shift. We got attacked three times during that night by groups of roving youths who roamed the city streets in the early hours of the morning looking for trouble.
Mind you, the biggest learning experience came at dawn the next morning when I realised that, while I’d thought we had been alone, we had actually been surrounded by people all night - sleeping in doorways, under steps, in public toilets, everywhere. Some had slept alone, though many slept in groups - for the sake of safety! Poverty is a state of vulnerability - to the elements, to disease, to starvation, to violence.
’Blessed are you poor’ Jesus says! ’Blessed’ in what sense’, I hear these people reply - these people, the descendants of Jesus’ original audience. They don’t look particularly blessed! Tired, hungry, angry, in pain, in torment - yes - but not ’blessed’. This sort of poverty is not a blessed state. It’s an accursed way to be, surely!
The point that Jesus is making, I believe, is not that the poor are blessed because they have the privilege of being poor, but that they are being blessed because God is going to see to it that they are not going to be poor much longer.
We need to see these sayings in context, as part of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This was Jesus’ gospel says Mark: ’the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:15) This was His message.
If you have been unclear up to this point as to what exactly was the message of Jesus, grasp it clearly today. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. He did not preach justification by faith. I don’t think that he would have disagreed with that, but that was Paul’s message. Neither did he preach salvation in His name. That was Peter’s turn of phrase. Jesus’ own message was simple: the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe.