I got the call a few days back.
If you sit in a chair like mine, you’ve gotten them as well, and maybe more often now than ever.
She had called before. In fact, following her plea for help with rent we had paid half in early December. Two months later, her situation hasn’t changed, and she finds herself in much the same place she did then. Unable to make rent and keep her family fed at the same time.
Now we don’t have strict criteria on when we help and when we don’t. If there is money in the account for this purpose, we do what we can. Rent isn’t cheap, though, not even in the places where those who call are living, and normally we only are able to pay for half. And this. It is typically our practice only to help once a year.
It is a new calendar year, though, and so after listening to her plight, her tearful words, I filled out a check request for half. I have no idea how or when or if she managed to secure the other half. When our comptroller dropped off the check with the property manager, they indicated that she still owed, and time was running out.
I have no first-hand experience of that kind of poverty — the sort that is always scrambling to meet the demands of another creditor or the landlord. I have known those who juggle the bills, though, paying the electric bill in the summer and the gas bill in the winter, just to stay a step ahead, although never really catching up. I can only imagine what that level of anxious scrambling does to one’s being: body, mind, and soul. And this is just my limited observation of what it must be in a small midwestern city where the supports and resources for those who struggle so are not insignificant.
So it is I lay that one phone call, that one weeping, frightened voice alongside the words of Jesus now and I recognize what a powerful yet seemingly fantastical word he teaches today. Indeed, as we listen, we realize he is not even speaking in the future tense when it comes to ‘the poor.’ For Jesus says today that the kingdom of heaven is already theirs. That, in fact, it already belongs to the one who called me in desperation a few days back.
And yet, I don’t see it. I really, really don’t.
- For chances are great that the precious one who called this week would now be living in her car, if she had one, which she does not.
- Or she has moved in with a friend.
- Or maybe she found her way to our local homeless shelter. Where hopefully they had room for her.
But with all of my imagining, I cannot presume to know what this has been for her, even if I did know the details. And while I do not know how this is a ‘blessed’ state of being, truly I do not, I do know that she is close to the heart of God today, as is anyone, anywhere who find themselves where she is. And as for the rest of us who know ourselves to be more ‘blessed’ by the world’s standards now, we would surely do well to get ourselves close to one such as her. For there, apparently is where God’s kingdom already is.
And yet, I don’t always.
Truth is, most of the time I am glad enough to let someone else take the call, listen to the pain, sort through the details.
In fact, this is so. A while back a call came in that someone needed a tire repaired and that his car would not be given to him until that repair was paid for.
I made my way to the shop and handed over the really small amount required. And I was honestly a bit grateful that the one in need was on his phone when I walked in and unable to talk with me more, for his obvious, endless need was practically seeping out of him.
Maybe you have more of Dorothy Day or St Francis in you than I do, but my instinct is often to keep some distance from the poor Jesus calls blessed today. Mostly I expect because I feel I have so little to give, no actual means to change what is, and to be honest, no real sense at all that the kingdom of God is putting down roots there in any meaningful way.
Which is why, I suppose, it matters for many of us, maybe all of us to hear Jesus’ words today, even if they are more words of judgment than blessing for those of us the world would call blessed.
For his preaching here keeps our focus on the only place it matters. Indeed, I expect it keeps our hearts tuned to the possibility of a world where the poor have all that they need, where the hungry are filled, the grieving laugh again, those who live and work in the name of Jesus are leaping for joy in spite of the struggle we find ourselves in for the sake of a world Jesus seems to call us to shape today.
For that is where many of us most easily enter the promise Jesus preaches now, don’t we?
You and I who are called on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the weeping?
Indeed, for those of us whose imagination has been stirred by the world Jesus points to now, if we can even begin to imagine it, how can we imagine not working towards it, no matter the cost?
And maybe that begins by our standing within reach of Jesus’ words today.
Surely it means having our vision for what the world might be reshaped, expanded, deepened far beyond where we have imagined before.
Perhaps it means letting our hearts be softened and our wills hardened to change the circumstances of the ‘poor’ ones when the difficult phone call is picked up or we are next called out to pay for a tire repair.
Through it all, surely it means giving it back over and over again into the hands, the heart of the One who preaches a new world today. Asking that we might be among those who imagine a different way and begging for the courage, the will, the hope to step towards it on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the grieving.
For surely we come closer to the world God intends then, don’t we?
One where we can finally see and comprehend the blessing that God is working even now.
- These words of Jesus are so familiar to us by now. What do you hear new in them this time through?
- Do you hear these blessings and woes as simply statements of fact, or are they invitation to us to something more?
- In Matthew’s version of the beatitudes, he seems to soften them some. For instance, there Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ instead of ‘blessed are the poor,’ as we hear in Luke. What difference does that make for you as you hear and perhaps preach or teach from them here?
- I have laid out above some of my own journey through these words and how I am inclined to interact with or in behalf of the ‘poor.’ Where do you find yourself responding to this piece of your call?