Tuesday, November 1, 2011
SERMON ON THE MOUNT SERIES - BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT
“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.