Monday, 10 February 2014

"Blessed are the poor (in spirit) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

In Matthew's gospel at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), and in Luke's as part of the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) we find a set of short sayings, each of which begins with the phrase "Blessed are...". These sayings, particularly those in Matthew's Gospel are commonly referred to as "The Beattitudes".

I remember looking at the Beattitudes on a camp when I was 14 or so, I believe I still have the hoodie somewhere... If you asked me I would say that I know them; they are familiar to me, after all I have heard them many times. I would probably also say that they have at least a little influence over my life, after all they're part of Jesus' teachings. However, a couple of hours of pondering and a little bit of reading this afternoon has made me wonder if I've ever really given them more than a passing glance, more particularly I'm not sure how I've never noticed how hard I find it to apply them to my day to day life. I will offer my reflections below...

A little bit of context... The Beattitudes are spoken to the disciples, seemingly at a distance from 'the crowd', and they have just answered Jesus' call to follow Him. These men have just left everything they have ever known; their families, their homes, their daily routine. They had probably also left any influence they might have had at a political level - would you listen to someone who had just turned their life upside down because someone asked you to, who had given up the business of making money and putting food on the table? They have begun a life that could well be characterised by poverty, grief, hunger, thirst and persecution. This is the new way into which Jesus speaks, these are the people to whom he announces the greatest of blessings.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" The disciples have no spiritual power, no knowledge of what lies before them, no voice that would be heard by the authorities of the time, and no way of influencing their path other than by following in Jesus' footsteps. They are also materially poor. It is easy to forget that in Luke this Beattitude does not contain 'in spirit' reminding us that the disciples poverty is wholistic. There are no rich disciples.

Now, I am not poor. I would even go so far as to say that I am rich. I can afford holidays; more clothes than I need; meals out; flights round the world to see family; a phone contract; I could afford a car if I wanted to; trips to the cinema; many, many books, the list goes on. Yet, I know for certain that none of this brings me any closer to the kingdom of heaven. My wealth, in a sense, 'fills' my life. But it is not a satisfactory Fullness.

When Jesus calls the disciples he empties their life of their wealth, and the only thing they can fill it with is Him. There are times when I envy the monastic calling, I think I'd be pretty poorly suited to it, but there are times I wish that there was nothing in my life to distract me, to leave me with no choice but to fill my time with God. Not that the disciples did only fill themselves, their heads and hearts, with Jesus. They were concerned about more worldly matters too; how to feed a hungry crowd; how to survive in a storm tossed sea; how to save their saviour from the men who came to arrest him (there's a whole other blog in that thought...); how to save themselves when they believed he had been taken from them. The disciples were people like us too, people concerned with the day to day, forgetting who they were called by, needing reminding where true wealth lay.

The kingdom of heaven is characterised by a pouring out, an overflowing cup. Jesus gives food to the hungry - food that satisfies; he offers water that will quench the thirst for eternity; he brings his majesty to calm the storm; he brings his mercy to those who oppose him; he brings himself to those who have lost him. We can only truly receive God, if our hands are not full of other things, if we, like the first disciples, have first left behind the things we think we need.

Only the poor can truly receive the Kingdom, can truly appreciate it's power to satisfy. God demands everything I have and everything I am. I will not only use it to serve him, I must give it up for him. God pours his blessings upon us so that we too might become overflowing cups. The first disciples receive the kingdom of heaven, but it doesn't stop with them, they bring it to others. As they are filled, God fills them to overflowing, the Kingdom doesn't just satisfy the disciples it pours out to all others whose hands are empty, empty and ready to receive.

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