Take The Humble Path (Sunday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Of all the things Jesus could start with, this is it?
Imagine this: Jesus had just gathered his young disciples, teenage young men that they were, for their very first lesson. Just prior to this, they’d been with Jesus among the “crowds,” with a broad ethnic mix of women and men from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. The attention was fixed on this miracle worker, Jesus, who seemed to be able to heal every disease, even giving hope to epileptics and paralytics and demoniacs. Can you imagine the buzz?
To be a teenage follower of Jesus in this eclectic crowd! Social media would have been abuzz. How special must these young followers have felt? And then, with seeming ignorance to the opportunity a large crowd was for a preacher, Jesus says, “Let’s get out of here.” And he takes a much smaller crew of followers up a hillside to chat with them about what the kingdom of God really means.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What a buzzkill, Jesus! Just think of it – these newly empowered young followers who are feeling quite special about themselves now told that the first principle of this new kingdom order is poverty! What could Jesus mean?
He wasn’t telling them to sell off their stocks and IRA’s – no, he was saying something far more radical. To a group of young, newly empowered, feeling-kind-of-special followers he was saying, “You must come to the very end of yourselves.”
20th century poet T.S. Eliot in his beautiful “East Coker” imagines a path through a world that offers only fragile, temporal solutions. Amidst war and secularism and cheap versions of progress, Eliot imagines another way, an inward journey:
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.[i]
Jesus is envisioning us falling into the goodness of his kingdom. It’s not a journey that requires us to climb a ladder up into the divine heights. No, this kingdom of heaven requires us to let go, to fall, to come to our end. The heavenly dimension available and accessible to all is not up there, but as close as your body, as close as the ground you stand on.
The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 will be a hard message for these young followers. After all, when you’re young it’s all about the upwardly mobile life. We accumulate degrees and edit resumes and iron our best shirts for the big interview. We’re always striving for the next promotion, the big payday. For young followers looking for a Messiah to give them titles and riches and glory, this message might just be a hard one to swallow. Maybe they, and all of us, need a bit of time to sit with it. In the next Beatitude, Jesus will invite us to grieve, too.
For Jesus, the Lenten journey must go through a Cross. For each of us, there is a daily dying in which every part of us that grasps, accumulates, and strives chooses, once and for all, to surrender. This is a lifetime work. It’s not slow, it’s not easy, it’s not sexy. In time, our true selves in Christ emerge from the ruins like the resurrected Jesus, freed to live the full, abundant life – the heavenly life – Jesus promises. But a lot of dying needs to happen. Every resistant part of us is invited to surrender.
Sit with this difficult invitation from Jesus today. There is no need to hear it as a command to sell all your possessions immediately and wallow in guilt about the life you’ve lived. That’s not the point! Jesus is inviting us to freedom, not guilt. He’s showing us the way to goodness, not guiltiness. He’s offering the opportunity to remove every obstacle to union. As we sit with Jesus and consider this, will we take the journey?
Lord Jesus, you open a way to us that seems daunting but is ultimately freeing. And yet, it’s hard to comprehend. What does it mean for me? And how can I live for you in a world that lives to consume, possess and accumulate? Give me wisdom, and be my guide. Amen
[i] T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), p. 20.