Today’s lesson from the gospel of Luke can fall harshly on our ears; when we start to hear “Blessed are the poor” things go along fine until it get to “Woe to you who are rich”. Let’s face it, most of us here today are rich compared to many in the world today. So I think it’s fair to say that today’s gospel has put us on notice. Plainly put, we all need to up our game a bit. We are blessed by the world’s standards. But God is watching. The way that we treat those who have less than we do, those who are hungry and poor, those who we might not even notice are indeed seen by God, and God understands their suffering. That is part of the good news; because God became human in the life of Jesus, God understands all of our suffering because in Jesus, God has suffered. God has been hungry, God has been betrayed and killed by those whom he loved and came to save. So, there is not suffering on earth that God is not intimately acquainted with.
It seems to me, that given who Jesus is and the kind of life that Jesus lived, that God has a special closeness with the poor and suffering. Not that being poor or in a constant state of suffering is should be our goal in order to get closer to God; God loves all of us and is faithful in his relationships to all of us. God doesn’t love any of us more than another; however, because God lived as one of us, God has a special relationship with the poor and suffering. As I thought about why that might be, what made sense to me, is that because the Son, the second person of the Trinity laid aside what it meant to BE God by living as Jesus, fully human, God knows something about poverty. Not that Jesus isn’t also fully God, but there is something that speaks of poverty when the creator of all that is, takes on human form. God takes on that form as a newborn child; nothing is as helpless or poverty stricken as a newborn human.
This isn’t to say that those who aren’t poor aren’t loved by God; poverty in and of itself isn’t the goal here. We can take a page from St. Francis’ book here, where the taking on of poverty is not about poverty itself, but rather it is about the generosity that gives to others. And, doesn’t that sound like the poverty that God took on in Jesus? In that life of Jesus, God became poor in order that God might give all that it meant to BE God for us, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, gave us part of God’s very life.
So what of those of us who aren’t poor or hungry or suffering? What does this mean for us?
The kingdom of God has come to earth in Jesus; his gift to us of his Holy Spirit gives us the gifts and the abilities to continue the work of the kingdom here on earth. Honestly, some days, it’s really hard to see the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, but it is here, sometimes in the small places rather than in the headlines of cable news. It’s in the people of the city of Longview who came together to bury a homeless man that was known by many; the kingdom of God is present when a school custodian helps a special needs child eat his breakfast; it’s present in the compassion of teachers, medical staff, first responders; it’s present when we notice someone having a hard time and we do something to lessen their burden… There are big ways as well; the kingdom of God is present when we vote in ways that help those less fortunate than us; it is present when we write the checks to Episcopal relief and development or to the Red Cross; it’s present when we support businesses that help raise people out of poverty… We may not have the power to heal people the way that Jesus did, although some may have that power, but we DO have power. We have what it takes to bring good news to others because good news has been brought to us. Loving and following Jesus isn’t just about our life after death; what you and I do here on earth matters; it matters to God and it matters to God’s people. That is, I believe in part why Jesus came – to make this world holy so that God’s kingdom on earth would matter just as much as God’s kingdom in heaven. God so loved the world – this world that you and I are blessed enough to live in. And the poor, and meek, and suffering are blessed not because of their suffering, but because the Good news of the Gospel of Jesus is theirs – and we are blessed when we reach beyond ourselves to bring that Good news to others. And, doing that work, doing what Jesus did for others won’t always feel good, and it won’t necessarily bring us blessings in the form of pats on the back; in fact it’s possible as Jesus said that people will speak ill of us; after all, look what they did to him. But our blessings will be in knowing that we have done what we could to continue Jesus’ work here on earth.
This season of Epiphany is one that helps us to know who Jesus is, and when we know something about who Jesus is, we also know something about who we are. Jesus is the one who in his life, death, and resurrection from the dead has brought the kingdom of God to earth. May we become those who are blessed by giving up some of who we are and what we have so that the kingdom may continue to be here on earth as it is in heaven.