Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Strange Sort of Blessing

There's little wonder that Matthew's more spiritualized version of the Beatitudes is more beloved than those found in Luke. Not only does Matthew's "Blessed are the poor in spirit" become "Blessed are you who are poor." But Luke also adds a corresponding list of woes or curses. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." Not hard to see why no one ever labeled these verses from Luke the "Be Happy Attitudes."

What does it mean to speak of God's blessing or favor on those who are poor and God's curse on those who are rich? And especially for well-off, suburban, American Christians, what does it mean? How are we to reconcile our near obsession with possessions, our desire to acquire more and more, and our portfolios designed to "build wealth" with these words from Jesus? If wealth is such a curse and poverty a blessing, why do we so want to be rich and so fear being poor? And if they are indeed blessed, why do we denigrate the poor so in our society.

I don't have a nice, neat answer to such questions. I find them quite troubling, although I think that argues for spending more time with them rather than dismissing or ignoring them. I say that in part because the God I meet in the Bible quite regularly acts counter to convention, in surprising and baffling ways, and in ways that upend human plans and my expectations. As the prophet Isaiah says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD."

We would prefer it otherwise. We are forever trying to create God in our image, but God seems intent on someday having us mirror the divine image. Perhaps that is why many of us are so drawn to Jesus and yet find it so difficult actually to follow him. We see in him our truest calling, what it is to be fully human. But we're comfortable where we are, and so we'd rather convert God.

I'm no different. I'm drawn to Jesus, even enamored by him. But I keep hoping he didn't mean a lot of what he said. I guess it's a good thing that God's seems to be infinitely patient and merciful.

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