Early in life, I grew up with this notion, this assumption, that the world was generally divided into two groups of people.
In one group were those who essentially “had it all together”, who seemed perfect in every respect, who were ethically, morally, spiritually solid, who somehow had it all figured out – the right decisions and actions to put them where they ended up being: in positions of leadership, fame, power and influence, admired and praised by all.
In the other group were, essentially the rest of us: “normal” people with typical struggles, complexities and weaknesses, prone to making mistakes, beset by confusion, doubt, and held back by fears and anxieties.
Over time, of course, my view changed, but not until after some surprising discoveries.
For example (just one of many): I had always thought of Mother Teresa as part of the first group: perfect. A paragon of spirituality, a stellar, shining example of Christ-like love and service to others through her work in the slums of Calcutta.
Perfect, in every respect, I imagined.
Well of course, she wasn’t perfect – she was and did good in many ways, no doubt, but not “perfect.” After her death, when her biographies came out revealing her very personal, long term struggle with depression and doubting God’s existence, I was surprised, shocked.
After hearing today’s Gospel reading, we wouldn’t be honest with ourselves if we didn’t admit at least some surprise and shock, at least some feeling that the world has been upended and turned upside down, with some of what Jesus says.
Because here we’re confronted with people whom we wouldn’t typically expect would be favoured by God, certainly through the eyes of society.
Just think about it for a moment.
Jesus lists all the people who are especially blessed by God.
But he doesn’t say: Blessed are those who’ve “made it”, who’ve gotten good jobs, who’ve settled in a lovely house in the suburbs, and a two-car garage.
That’s whom we’d expect.
Instead, Jesus says: Blessed are the “poor in spirit”, or, as Luke’s Gospel more concretely puts it, “Blessed are you who are poor…who are hungry now…”
That’s surprising, if you think about it.
Today, society tends to regard “the poor” as lazy, an embarrassment, as non-entities – in one broad brush-stroke.
These are the stereotypes out there, and to varying degrees, we hold in here.
Have you ever walked past a group of those who appear homeless, and think to yourself: Blessed are they?
But Jesus does.
And there are other things he says here in the Gospel text that we might find baffling.
Blessed are the meek? The peacemakers? Blessed are those who mourn?
How can that be?
Jesus lifts up and points to the meek, the humble, the peacemakers, the merciful ones, those who are – from society’s perspective – down and out and wearied with grief and loss – these are the ones Jesus says that God especially favours, watches out for, and loves with tenderness and compassion.
Jesus himself knew very well – from a personal level – what it meant to be poor, to suffer illness, disease and grief, in his own life, and in the lives of his neighbours, friends and family members around him while living and growing up in the small, hillside town of Nazareth in Galilee.
Also remember, Jesus himself knew what it was really like to grieve, to cry from the depths of one’s heart, as John’s Gospel reports Jesus “weeping” over the death of his close friend Lazarus.
Most people in the1st century Galilee area were “poor” by any standard – many of them peasants, farmers, woodworkers, fishermen,
…day to day subsistence living,
…depending heavily on each other for material and emotional support.
Jesus was very much among them – part of the community – among the least and the lowly.
And, as Jesus begins his ministry at age 30, he delivers his famous “Sermon on the Mount” in which he has something very direct and personal to say to the very peasants, farmers and fishers he grew up with, and who gathered around him that day, and to all who are the least, lost and lowest in society.
He wants to tell them that they are not forgotten; that they are loved, that God holds a special place in God’s heart for them.
Blessed are they…
We too, in our own time, and in our own place, need to tune our ears and focus our hearts to be able to hear God whispering similar words of blessing, encouragement and steadfast love to us.
We may not be living and working in the halls of power and influence, enjoying ease and luxury, and the praise and admiration that comes from fame and high social status.
Instead, we may be carrying out our lives in the ordinary realm of mundane, unadorned and unspectacular life, being carried along by the ebb and flow of typical stresses, disappointments and grief that invariably comes our way….
But in the midst of all that, God whispers into our ear:
You John are loved.
You Shandra are blessed.
You Celeste are precious.
You Harry are a good man.
Who are the saints? Those who’ve heard and felt deep within, even momentarily, the love of the Holy One.
Who are the Saints? Those who’ve then taken opportunity to act and share that compassionate forgiving live with others.
Acting as “mouthpieces” for God, the hands and feet of Jesus in the world around them.
In the midst of all those terrible moments that day when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot at the War Memorial in Ottawa, something happened.
In my mind, a real “angel”, a real Saint came to the side of Corporal Cirillo.
Barbara Winters, an Ottawa lawyer, an ordinary pedestrian going about her ordinary daily business that morning, just happened to be walking by when the shooting took place.
Instinctively, she rushed over to help Corporal Cirillo, giving emergency CPR.
But she did something else.
As she worked on him, and as he was slipping away and dying, she kept whispering into his ear: “You are loved. You are a good man. Your family, friends, everyone surrounding you here loves you.”
An ordinary Saint, doing and saying something extraordinary.
You and I, all of us who’ve heard God’s whisper of love, who realize our utter dependence on God and God’s grace, who approach all of life and other people with humility, respect, and dignity, all of us who work for peace and righteousness…we are blessed.
And our prayer, is that our words, our actions, and our very lives, would be a blessing to others.