Greetings, SBT Readers!
If the Winter Olympics in Beijing have anything to teach us, it's that nothing is as it seems and that gold is as ephemeral as dreams. Watching Kamila Valieva float, leap and gyrate across the ice has been an other-worldly experience - but now her achievement hangs in the balance because of a doping scandal.
Meanwhile, U.S. figure skater Vincent Zhou has had to drop out of the men's short program because he tested positive for Covid. His heartbreak is captured in the following statement: "The enormity of the situation, the — just the pain of it all, is pretty insane." Then there are those athletes who sustained injuries while competing-- for example, 24-year-old American alpine skier Nina O'Brien who has a badly broken left leg and South Korean short track speed skater, Park Jang-hyuk, who injured his left hand as a result of a collision...
Of course, there are countless mesmerizing success stories, but it is the sagas of disappointment and intrigue that give us pause to ponder. What is it like to devote one's whole life to competing in the Olympics only to be disqualified on account of one's clothing -- as in the case of the 5 women barred from the mixed team ski jumping event on account of their baggy clothing? How does one save face after a humiliating series of falls? Having given up her American nationality to compete for China, U.S. born figure skater Zhu Yi not only brought down the Chinese team, but became the victim of a firestorm of social media hatred. All this and still another week to go...
The Winter Olympics 2022 capture the fragility, uncertainty and incomprehensibility of the world in which we are living. They invite us to strive for excellence but not to define ourselves by what we accomplish -- or fail to do! We, like the athletes, are on thin ice, with no guarantees of taking home the gold. What we do know, however, is that the effort is more important than the outcome, that letting go is safer than grasping on to disappointment, and that playing fair creates a winning team.
Happy St. Valentine's Day!
Looking at his disciples Jesus said:
“Blessed are you poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
denouncing your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well-fed now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will weep and mourn.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
Perhaps the most important distinction between Luke's Sermon on the Plain and Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is not that
the sermons occur in different locations (level ground v. high ground) nor that only Luke's version contains the "Woes" ; rather, I would venture to say that it is Jesus' choice of pronouns. In Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks generically of "they" -- a class of people who are blessed because of their righteousness. These are the ones who have found favor with God because they are humble, peaceful, obedient, merciful and virtuous; it is only at the very end of this sermon that Jesus switches pronouns: "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you... Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 5:11-12).
In contrast, in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus looks directly at his disciples, addressing them as "you." A subtle difference, yes, but a significant one. "What's in a pronoun?" you might ask. Well, Jesus SEES his disciples and lets them know that he is aware of their sufferings -- of their hunger and poverty, their grief and discouragement, and of all the ridicule and hatred they are experiencing as the price for following him. Whereas the Blessed in Matthew 5 have already earned the Kingdom of God, the disciples in Luke 6 are engaged in a struggle that involves physical and emotional hardships: Real poverty v. poverty of spirit; real hunger v. hunger for righteousness; real sorrow v. grief over the crimes of evildoers; and, like the Blessed in Mt 5, real persecution. In contrast, those who cling to their material comforts, stuffing their bellies, closing their hearts to their neighbors' needs, looking down on the poor, are on a sure track for a reversal of fortunes. Soon, they will find themselves standing "in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth" (Jer 17:6); they are "like chaff which the wind drives away."
In effect, Jesus is assuring his followers that there is more to life than possessions and status; for emphasis, he also addresses the heart-hardened who reject his message and all that he stands for. For them, "Woes" lie ahead. They are like the rich man in the parable of Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), or like the wealthy landowner who decides to hoard all his crops instead of sharing his surplus (Lk 12:16-21). By narrating parables that end in woe for the wealthy, Jesus affirms the blessing of "not having," of being poor: only the poor and needy person makes room for God; wealthy narcissists tend to deify themselves.