Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I went and hugged Stephanie tightly and let her cry on my shoulders. I was prepared to hug her all day and just be silent. After some time, I tried to squeeze some comforting words to her, “Step, your hubby died a righteous man and God would be please with him.” “Where…where was God when my husband was in trouble?” She retorted. I knew I was caught in this age old question. “I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t understand everything about what God is doing, but I know that no righteous lives would be wasted in His sight,” a sudden burst of wisdom came to my mind. Stephanie was comfortable with me because she knew I was in mourning too. “I’m sorry. I cannot see anything positive at this moment,” she apologised. When she said that, I cried. I thought so. It was a long shot. Yet, deep within me, I still held on to this notion: if there is God, there is hope.
As Stephanie’s head still rested on my shoulders in sorrow, another friend came over and gently nudged me. Erin put her hands around us and said softly, “There’s a man of God who’s going around doing great miraculous works. The whole village is exploding in excitement over this. They said it is like God sending a prophet directly to visit us”. Stephanie raised and tilted her head a little on hearing those words. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a little awkward. Erin’s excitement caught both of us by surprise. It was unlike Erin as she herself was fighting a deadly disease in her body. “Us?” Stephanie asked sarcastically. “Yes. Us,” Erin spoke confidently. “This man of God healed my disease,” she broke the news. I inched closer to Erin to make sure I got her right. “You mean he healed you. You are completely healed. It was a miracle,” I pressed. Stephanie and I watched in amazement as Erin twirled her body in a dance move which was impossible just the day before. Our moment of mourning was slowly melting away. Erin saw into our eyes that we wanted more. “He would be at this place afterwards. He said something about the kingdom of heaven. Some people said he could be…,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Could be what?” we asked simultaneously. “The Messiah!” Erin said with a tinge of awesomeness. I could feel my legs giving way. “Am I hearing correctly? Messiah? If he’s ‘The Messiah’, then change is coming?” I reasoned. That was huge news to Stephanie and me. We were witnessing right before us, a walking living miracle. I want justice for my best friend. With tears dripping down my face, I want justice for my son.
The good news Erin told us provided the extra strength for Stephanie to walk a long distance to where the man of God was. When we arrived, there was already a large crowd, all charged up to hear him. I had never seen such electrifying atmosphere in our village and the surrounding villages for God knew when. “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” they chanted in unison. “Save us, Son of David,” someone from the crowd cried in a loud voice.
Finally, my eyes saw him. This Jesus, Erin’s healer, stood with great confidence, exuded an aura of a powerful authority. He motioned with his hands to silence the crowd. And the words came, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Every word was crisp and clear. He paused and the words hung in the air, as if waiting for them to accomplish a purpose. They shot right into our very soul like flying arrows. I saw Stephanie knelt and then laughed. When she confided with me later, she felt the touch of God in those words. The Messiah’s words were like fresh bread from heaven. It was a comfort for her present mourning as well as a future hope. “We are not just dwelling in an earthly kingdom with earthly things. Now I believe that there is really a kingdom of heaven! Something eternal,” she shared with me. What she said next startled me. “Remember what you said to me, ‘If there is God, there is hope!’ I got it now! Thanks!” Yes, I did say that but I was only hoping then. After meeting with Jesus, I was sure!
I hugged Stephanie again but this time, we were breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you, Jesus!
The second beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount suggests a God-sent comfort in response to a heart of tenderness of a person who is afflicted with grief. Suffering, pain and death are part and parcel of this world infested with sins. No one escapes the trials and tribulations of life. There are two major reactions to suffering. One person falls into depression and hardens up. Another person ponders over everything with God on his mind. The former cries for attention selfishly while the latter reaches out to God. The one who thinks of God does not mean he will not grief and mourn. He will but his process could be easier or perhaps shorter. The Jewish audience that Jesus ministered to and Matthew, the gospel writer, wrote to could have been well-versed with prophet Isaiah’s proclamation of the coming Messiah and that He would comfort all who mourn hundreds of years before (Isaiah 61:1-3). Not long after the prophet Isaiah died, the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The Jewish people were taken into exile. The words of the Prophet Isaiah became especially precious after that. Subsequently, many other voices of the prophets came after him. The people of God literally survived holding on to the promise of God! Many who suffered because of sin did not repent. There were those who gave up and assimilated into the culture of the Babylonians. But there were also many who continued to hold on to God and His Word!
God never denounces grief. He knows we need to mourn as humans in the flesh. But in our mourning and grief, we need to continually look to God as our healer and a source of comfort. Jesus Himself wept when Lazarus died. His flesh cried for relief from the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the cross, He cried, “God, God, Why have you forsaken me?” Yet, in every occasion, He trusted God, the Father. He knew God would never abandon Him!
The principles that Jesus preaches in the Sermon are kingdom of heaven’s values. In the world, usually mourners blamed and cursed, exacerbating whatever bad that had occurred. Sometimes it caused untold suffering for many more people when uncontrolled revenge was to be exacted. An injustice would then breed many more injustices. Innocent parties dragged in as collateral damage. The comfort God brings to mourners results in reconciliation and freedom! Lessons, however bitter, if learnt God’s ways, will heal, bringing out only the good, or even the best of people in grief.
Next: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
“I am not going!” I protested. Jerry had been convincing me to hear out this great famous healer who happened to be in town. “So what, can he give me some money to ease our burden a little bit?” I was not in mood for anything. Dad told me to gather some woods for him. He wanted me to cook a little broth for him as he was having a bout of stomach cramps. Jerry showed me his usual facial displeasure. My life was all about surviving. Poverty had taken a toll of some of my family members. Dad and mom woke early and for a meagre sum, they toiled from dusk till dawn in a farm. Deep in my heart, I resented the owner for his arrogance and condescending attitude toward all his workers. His motto, “If you don’t work hard, you get out.”
“I heard from a friend that this guy did fantastic miracles! Must be someone blessed by God to do such things. Don't you think so?” Jerry kept hounding me. Maybe it was the word, ‘God’ that caught my attention. “Could be?” I answered calmly. Somehow, there were some mixed emotions within me. On one hand, I wished God would hear my cry for relief but on the other hand, I blamed Him for my predicaments. “But God’s got bigger things to do than noticing us,” I shrugged him off. “Okay, I help you with the woods and you accompany me to the hill on the other side,” Jerry rumbled on. I was taken in by his persistence, as usual. A friend since childhood, Jerry lived in poverty too but he was much more optimistic than me.
We kept the woods near my house and sauntered off to the hills. Laughing and joking along the way, we met many people, mostly poor peasants trudging in the same direction. Most of them kept conversing about that man from God. Few ladies rushed in front of us, almost knocking Jerry down. “Hey, look where you are going,” I shouted. “Sorry, I want to get a better glimpse of my healer afterwards,” one lady said excitedly with a wide grin. Did she say, “my healer”? Jerry and I ran along to catch up. “Hi, why are you girls so excited about that man?” I asked as I ran, panting for breath. “Oh, didn’t you know that Jane was healed of a skin disease by this man of God?” one of the ladies chipped. Evidently, Jane had brought friends to hear her healer out.
I stopped to take some deep breaths. “So the stories were true,” Jerry said in amazement as he leaned against a tree. Still unconvinced that God would do anything for me, I pushed on. When we arrived, a big crowd had already occupied almost the entire place below the hill. It was difficult even to go near where the famous person stood. All we saw was some of his disciples getting the people in order. It was very noisy but the excitement was electrifying. His presence exuded an aura of a King from God which our people had not experienced for a long time. Then I heard his name for the first time as the people cried for him.
My heart mellowed as I waited with bated breath for him to speak. I wondered seriously whether this so called man of God was able to change the down-trodden poor out of their severe poverty. And then he spoke, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” His words were penetrating and my soul reverberated with a sense of awe. That one sentence was filled with such power. “Was he talking about me?” I reasoned. “You mean I can be blessed and happy when I possess nothing more than simply surviving,” I talked loudly to myself. Jerry’s eyes locked mine and I saw tears. Nudging him, I asked why? “I heard stories of foreign domination of this land and atrocious things being done here. And today, for the first time, I heard that I could belong to the Kingdom of heaven,” Jerry spoke and wiped his eyes. Both of us saw hope and future with this man. Perhaps he was a prophet who healed like Elisha. Maybe even the Messiah we heard so much about. Jesus paused and I cried. God created the whole world and He 'came' to this remote place. I got a feeling that Jesus was directing his words to people like me. As we walked home that day, things would not be the same anymore. Our eyes began to look up. Our lives started to feel hope. “Thanks Jerry!” I whispered. And he turned around and said, “Thank God!”
The Sermon on the Mount is a series of preaching or teaching by Jesus during his earthly ministry. He proclaims to them the Kingdom of heaven* and all the values associated with it. This Kingdom is both now (as God gathers the believers) and future (when Jesus comes again to reign as King of kings on earth literally). It is filled with God-given principles or laws that anyone who follows them would be blessed. The Latin word for blessed is beatus, from which we get the word beatitude. ‘Blessed’ in Greek language here denotes a happy state of a person, an innate experience regardless of outward circumstances.
Jesus’ preaching opens with the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” His audience is mostly poor peasants in the Roman world, the rich are very rich while the poor suffer greatly. When God includes them into His kingdom regardless of their status, they are overjoyed. Many sick people are ‘untouchables’ (unclean according to Jewish laws) and all of them feel a sense of hopelessness. When healings take place, imagine the joy of being accepted back into society and family. The only requirement for ‘membership’ into God’s kingdom is a heart of humility. Obviously, the poor are much more receptive to Jesus than the rich. With that opening beatitude, Jesus opens up a world of hope and future for people who think that God has abandoned them. Thus, Jesus begins the restoration of the world he loves and he comes to die for.
*The gospels of Mark, Luke and John referred mostly to the Kingdom of God which is equivalent to Kingdom of heaven because Matthew's gospel was directed to the Jewish audience where God's name was still too sacred to utter from the lips of man. Perhaps Matthew tried to evade controversy at this point of time.
Next: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.