knew how to ask
for divine favor:
blighted from birth
or afflicted by the unexpected,
this ragged band
grasped at grace,
in spittle-paste, dust,
the fringe of a cloak.
no polite "vouchsafe,
prithee, please do,
be so good as,
for mercy's sake"
but primal screams
which rent the heart
and opened heaven's doors.
Come, cadgers all!
We who would receive
must go a-begging,
naked and poor ....
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 1988
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The Kingdom of God is a state of heart that can be actualized NOW!
Greetings, SBT Readers:
While Jesus' disciples most likely interpreted the Kingdom of God as a time of economic prosperity to be enjoyed in this world, many Christians tend to think it refers to the afterlife.
But is this what Jesus meant? Could it be that we have entirely missed the point of his teachings?
Reading Luke's version of
I'm inclined to view the Kingdom of God as a state of mind that can be accessed right now. The poor are blessed not because of their poverty, but because detachment from possessions, wealth and comfort frees them to focus on the world of Spirit and to depend on God for their very survival. The less we are distracted by things we own, the less these things possess us, and the more God can own us instead. Now, I'm not saying that everyone who is poor becomes more spiritual as a result; poverty can lead to desperate circumstances which, in turn, can lead to malnutrition, lack of health care, chronic health conditions, bad decisions, lack of employment etc. However, the simpler our lifestyle and the less we are burdened by possessions, the more accessible we are to God-- unless, that is, we are filled with anger, resentment and self-pity.
Where there is "emptiness" or hunger, we can either become crazed by the desire for a full stomach or we can allow God to fill the void instead. Again, I don't want to make light of chronic hunger which tragically afflicts millions of people world wide, but the desire for "more" when we have already had enough or even too much, is one of the blocks to spiritual awareness. How can we be aware of God's presence when we are constantly gratifying our appetites beyond the point of satiation? The truth is that the void many of us stuff with things, addictive substances, relationships and activities can only be filled by God. When we allow the void to remain empty, then God can transform the emptiness into a state of bliss -- the Kingdom of God!
As for "weeping," there is plenty to weep about in our world, with no time to absorb all the horrendous events and situations that make the headlines each day. If we weep for the world, then, like the prophets we are aligning our vision with God's, and God's heart and our hearts are similarly affected. But there is another kind of weeping that gives us greater access to the Kingdom of God: that is, when we weep out of compassion for the Holy One whose creation has strayed so far from Eden and from the Divine Intention. When we share in the Divine Grief and grieve for the brokenhearted God, then we are truly dwelling in the Kingdom of God.
Please note that my weekly video reflection,
is an imperfect production, entirely unscripted and therefore prone to some "rough spots" in terms of clarity, content and expression! Sadly, there's no time for "re-takes"!
“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 are weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you,
denouncing your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy, for your
reward will be great in heaven."
LK 6:17, 20-26
Luke's version of
presents a series of reversals: whatever status one is suffering or enjoying in the present tense will be reversed in the Kingdom of God. In other words, "Woes" will become "Blessings" and "Blessings" will become "Woes"; those who have nothing will have everything while those who have everything and more, will end up with nothing! As "Have Not's," most of Jesus' audience probably found solace in his words. In the first place, his teachings reversed the popular idea that prosperity was a sign of divine favor, removing any stigma they might have felt for being poor, hungry or oppressed. The Good News was that God saw their sufferings and pitied them. Not only that, but, according to Jesus, there would be a future time in which grief, poverty, hunger and persecution would no longer be their lot in life. Instead of living on the margins, scraping out a meager existence, they would receive a great reward -- wealth, rich food, respect and happiness. What more could they ask? Like Jesus' apostles, many probably assumed that this new day would happen in their lifetime and that Jesus himself would overthrow the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. For them, the Kingdom of God was a material concept.
In contrast, "the rich" were heading for disaster. This must have satisfied the poor and hungry in the crowd. Those who "lived the life," lording it over everyone else, would be brought low. Tax collectors who had cheated them in the past would now be stripped of their ill-gotten gains. Soldiers who had extorted money from them and merchants who had cheated them would find themselves on the streets with their begging bowls. Scribes and Pharisees who had looked down on them would no longer be able to mock them, but would themselves be the object of mockery.
But the reversals in
are not simply based on poverty and wealth but on discipleship. Some of the crowd would have left behind their families, occupations, security and comfort to follow Jesus; now his words assured them that a new day was coming when they would be vindicated. As his disciples, they were experiencing what the prophets before them had experienced-- rejection, hunger, and homelessness. Jesus, however, encouraged them to persevere:
"Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or spouse or bothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come"
Seen through the lens of discipleship, "the rich" were those who refused to follow Jesus and so were able to cling to their earthly comforts. Instead of embracing the hardships of The Way for the sake of the Kingdom of God, the rich preferred to stay home. There, comfortable and well-fed, they could continue to earn a living, support their families and maintain their reputations as righteous members of the community. Far from being tempted to follow Jesus, the "rich" despised all that he stood for because it threatened their materially-based way of life. Accordingly, they closed their ears and their hearts, not only blocking out his message of love but also extending their hatred towards those who in their eyes were fools to follow him. Like their ancestors before them, they mistreated the prophets in their midst and so would now have to face the woes awaiting them.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- Have you had to leave anything behind to be a disciple of Jesus, and, if so, what was the price you had to pay?
- What do you understand by the "Kingdom of God"?
- What "Blessings" and "Woes" have you experienced in life?
- Where is God calling you at this time in your life?
MY SPIRITUAL DIRECTION PRACTICE
Though most of you know me as a writer/ teacher, this year will mark the 30th Anniversary of my graduation from the Claret Center, Chicago, where I studied the art of Spiritual Direction. My video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well:
I meet with clients "in person" in downtown Chicago and also remotely via Zoom, Skype and Conference Call. Please contact me if you would like further information about Spiritual Direction or Life Coaching; I would love to hear from you!