This is a shallow example, I know, but it is where I am beginning as I stand still in Jesus’ preaching now.
I spent ninety minutes a few days back in the dentist’s chair.
I am being fitted for a crown, you see.
I have had other crowns before. Normally the whole process is entirely uneventful. Until a few years back when I kept insisting that my crown was sitting ‘high.’ It kept colliding with the tooth above it. I was back to the dentist several times where they kept grinding it down and grinding it down until finally they had to start over with a new one altogether. It all came down to a fraction of a fraction of an inch, but that crown simply did not ‘fit.’
So I sat patiently the other day with my mouth wide open while they took one impression after another to be sure they get this one just right. For it has to ‘fit’ perfectly, you see. Otherwise it will be more than just uncomfortable. Over time it will throw off the tooth above it and the tooth beside it, not to mention my entire ‘bite.’
It is how we prefer the world, of course, not only when it comes to our teeth, but everything else as well. A ‘tooth’ that sits too high calls attention to itself. It is an irritant that can lead to damage. We want things tidy. We prefer that things ‘fit.’
Only this is so. Often when I listen to Jesus preach I think of a ‘tooth that sits too high.’ Jesus and his way of seeing and addressing the world simply do not ‘fit.’
- Some would say what he has to offer now actually ‘damages’ or at least changes the way in which we have been taught to see and experience the world.
- Others would say that he is simply pointing out the way the world actually is — reversing the way we prefer it or have experienced it in the past.
Either way, certainly no one can deny that as we live with his list of comparisons, anyone nearby who is paying attention is changed by this lens on the world — perhaps not unlike nearby teeth to a new ‘crown’ which does not fit quite right. Indeed, for people of faith — for all of us who take this preaching seriously — we know this way of seeing the world does not ‘fit.’ And by this we are changed.
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 hat you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…
Only I find I cannot help but argue with Jesus now. For his saying people who are poor are somehow actually ‘blessed’ does not at first seem to make it so.
This is how it was.
I started last Thursday morning sitting in a courtroom.
I was there for one case in particular, but past experience told me that things in courtrooms seldom go in the order one expects. The case I was there for did not come up for quite some time.
And so it was I was left to sit in the back of the courtroom and wait.
While I waited, I watched and this is what I observed.
- Although I arrived well before 9, the room was already half full. I quickly learned that most of those there were waiting for their names to be called. Many of them had signed their names to a legal pad when they arrived — indicating their need for a public defender. One by one an attorney would walk to the legal pad, pick it up, and call out a name. Then the two (or sometimes three) of them would leave the room for a while, presumably consulting about their case. With an appearance before a judge imminent, for many this would be the first time they would have met their attorney.
- Most of the people were there alone.
- None of them were particularly well dressed. They all had the look, though, of having put on the best they had. Even so, blue jeans were worn and faded and winter coats looked like they had seen many seasons.
- One young man in particular caught my eye. He was wearing a bright red plaid tie. It was probably the only tie he had, but I can imagine he thought he would make a better impression if he dressed up a bit more than he might normally.
- As the cases were called, I found it hard to hear the details of what was being said at the bench, but one young man was sent downstairs with $800 towards his court costs before his case could proceed. I wondered at what sacrifice it took to come up with $800 which certainly did not cover all that he owed.
- There were no smiles. People looked as though they were uncomfortable, anxious, even afraid. I have no doubt that they were.
- I would venture to say that 99% of those in the courtroom at 9 am on Thursday morning were poor — physically and otherwise.
Contrast this with those who live their working hours in that courtroom every day:
- For them, suits and heels and fashionable hairstyles were in abundance.
- They were poised, carrying themselves confidently.
- There was much back and forth between and among them — quiet whispers and muffled laughter as they went about their work, connecting with colleagues and peers.
No thinking person would walk into that courtroom and think that the people who were there to have their cases adjudicated were particularly ‘blessed.’
Not. At. All.
Indeed, how in the world does the Kingdom of God possibly belong to them?
To tell you the truth, I do not know. I do know this, though. Jesus is adamant in his assertion that through his coming, the world and how we understand it is turned upside down. And maybe if I were to sit in that courtroom longer. No, more than that, perhaps if I were to actually get to know the stories and the circumstances of some of those whose lives I only got a brief glimpse into on a Thursday morning, maybe then I would know better what Jesus is getting at today. For it is so that too much of the time I am on the other side of this equation. Too much of the time I live as one of those who the world sees as ‘blessed’ today. And while this ‘blessing’ is surely fleeting, it does not always feel that way and certainly must not appear to be that way to anyone on the outside looking in.
- I don’t imagine I will find myself back in a courtroom this week. However, even as this message comes to you I will be accompanying a group of middle school students on a confirmation trip to a local funeral home. We are reflecting on the ‘communion of saints’ this week in a place where there has been plenty of weeping as Jesus has it now. If I am paying attention, I wonder what insight I will get into Jesus’ teaching that where there is mourning now there will one day be laughter.
- And on Wednesday that same group of middle school students will prepare and serve a meal at our local homeless shelter. Among what more fitting people might I gain a deeper understanding of the sort of poverty and blessedness Jesus speaks of now?
At least this is where I am beginning now. I am trying to go deep into Jesus’ teaching which certainly does not ‘fit’ with how the world measures blessedness and to see what he means by getting as close as I can to those who know better than I. I am trying to stand still in Jesus’ observations about ‘blessedness’ long enough that I might somehow be ‘changed’ by his way of seeing the world. Maybe it’s like a crown that does not quite ‘fit.’ Perhaps this teaching starts as an irritant and goes on to change everything/everyone that is nearby. Starting with me.
- How about you? How will you try to live into the truth of Jesus’ teaching this week?
- Where might you go deep with one who is poor, with someone who is hungry, with one who mourns, with one who is persecuted? How is God’s ‘blessedness’ experienced among those who do not look to be ‘blessed’ by the world’s standards?
- How is Jesus’ teaching like a ‘crown that does not quite fit?’ How is it an irritant? How does it alone change everything and everyone within earshot of his words? How does it, how has it, changed you?