He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
About This Week's Retreat
Compared with Matthew's Beatitudes, Luke offers no frills, qualifications, or spiritual subtleties, no nine-fold ladder of virtue to aspire to climb, no beautiful literary recitation for Sunday School.
You can't import your unconscious cynicism into Luke's version. There's no hiding poverty behind poverty of spirit. No meek inheriting the earth within such a vague 'someday' that even slaveholders can sit down to supper day after day without breaking into a sweat of concern. Someday someone will comfort the mourners. The hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied sometime. The merciful will obtain mercy, isn't that nice? The pure in heart shall see God, bless their little hearts. Let the peacemakers be called sons of God. Fine. Let those persecuted for righteousness sake wallow in the kingdom of heaven. No skin off our teeth. And HA ! No problem reviling, persecuting, and uttering falsely because those chumps can be “comforted” by their great reward in heaven.
In Luke's Gospel Jesus pares his mother's ecstatic prayer of hope and change and revolution (Luke 1:46-55) right to the core. But is such a simple reversal enough? Do the oppressed desire to become oppressors?
Jesus follows up his Beatitudes and Woes with a discourse about loving enemies (next week's Gospel). After the shock of the woes, we will see how much labor and insight is involved in loving. In the meantime, let's not default into stark extremes of simply reversing good and bad. In Elie Wiesel's novel The Town Beyond the Wall, the character Pedro says, “Deep down … man is not only executioner, not only victim, not only spectator; he is all three at once.”
This week, let's draw out the hope promised in the text.
Ever hopeful, in spite of the evidence, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) In The Shattering Experience
Blessed are you poor. Jesus wasn't advocating poverty tourism, assuaging conscience from a safe distance, or temporarily roughing it. Jesus knew an underlying truth. In Meditation One Johannes Metz asks you to consider that shattering experience of living “despite all hope.”
There is the poverty of the average man's life, who is unnoticed by the world. It is the poverty of the commonplace. There is nothing heroic about it; it is the poverty of the common lot, devoid of ecstasy.
Jesus was poor in this way. He was no model figure for humanists, no great artist or statesman, no diffident genius. He was a frighteningly simple man, whose only talent was to do good. …
Christ did not “identify” with misery or “choose” it; it was his lot. That is the only way we really taste misery, for it has its own inscrutable laws. … With nothing of his own to provide security, the wretched man has only hope – the virtue so quickly misunderstood by the secure and rich. They confuse it with shallow optimism and a childish trust in life, whereas hope emerges in the shattering experience of living “despite all hope” (Rom. 4:18).
-Johannes B. Metz b. 1928 Poverty of Spirit
Letter B, Michael Slaying the Dragon, Graduale, 14th Century
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968
After an orange cloud — formed as a result of a dust storm over the Sahara and caught up by air currents — reached the Philippines and settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the same boat.
-Vladimir Kovalyonok b. 1942 (retired Soviet Cosmonaut)
Letter B, David with harp, Slaying Goliath, Flanders, 13th century
Meditation Two (Insight) Would That We Might Follow Thee! Søren Kierkegaard 's prayer continues the theme of hope, acknowledging the suffering involved. He ends the prayer with a plea on behalf of all of us, to be able to follow Jesus.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst behold Thy fate in advance and yet didst not draw back; Thou who didst suffer Thyself to be born in poverty and lowliness, and thereafter in poverty and lowliness didst bear the sin of the world, being ever a sufferer, until, hated, forsaken, mocked, and spat upon, in the end deserted even by God, Thou didst bow Thy head in the death of shame – oh, but Thou didst yet lift it up again, Thou eternal victor, Thou who wast not, it is true, victorious over Thine enemies in this life, but in death wast victorious even over death; Thou didst lift up Thy head, forever victorious, Thou who art ascended to heaven ! Would that we might follow Thee!
-Søren Kierkegaard 1813-1855 The Prayers of Soren Kierkegaard
Meditation Three (Integration) Changed Into Their Glorious Counterparts
Desmond Tutu imagines God's own hopes and dreams, of woes turned to beatitudes.
I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God's family, My family.
-Desmond Tutu God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope of Our Time
The Last Word
One does not ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says: You suffer, that is enough for me.
-Louis Pasteur 1822-1895
Suzanne's Meditation When you Can't Compartmentalize
During my seasonal depression this past winter an interesting new symptom manifested - namely the inability to compartmentalize. Normally, you place worrisome things in a convenient basket to take out at leisure, look at rationally in a manageable segment of time and go on with life the rest of the day thinking about something else. I had been reading a (literal) basket full of new books on climate change and although the subject is not new to me, the inability to compartmentalize was, and so, climate insecurity was all I could think of while going about daily life - eating, working, interacting with people, decorating, singing Christmas carols, doing the daily crossword puzzle with Bill in late afternoon.
I'm sad but not surprised that we're foolish enough to create for ourselves an environment that we and most creatures will not have the evolutionary time to adapt to. Humans have been causing extinctions wherever we've migrated, and now that we are everywhere we're getting around to ourselves and the rest of creation. The general public has known this for decades. Scientists have been our John the Baptists, voices crying in the wilderness calling us to repent.
What disturbs me most is not so much that we have doomed ourselves. Maybe we've got a self-destructive gene.(As a depressive myself, I get that.) What disturbs me is the suffering that has begun and will accelerate so quickly and in so many forms, disproportionately affecting the poor at first. Water and food insecurity, mosquito-born diseases, epidemics, intensified fires, floods, droughts displacing millions of people at a time. And we'll the lack of resources to respond. Most of us can't imagine these scenarios. We're worried enough about the day ahead. A thousand inconveniences mount up (No coffee? Rolling blackouts again? Overcrowded hospital? Flooded street?) and then suddenly, a tsunami of disasters.
My beloved grandchildren, with whom who I snuggle and read and play and laugh, will face the full impact of this suffering in early adulthood.
I hear Luke's Woes. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Maybe I wasn't depressed this winter at all. Maybe I'm facing up to God with the shame I carry within my humanity. Maybe I am just terribly terribly sad.