Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a utopian society, a heaven on earth so to speak? A young teacher once proposed just such an opportunity, when – like the parents described in last week’s message, who invoked a divine spirit’s protective care for their daughters – he acknowledged the sanctity of just such a transcendent benefactor. And on that basis he asked that the will which governs the bliss of heaven do the same for a much troubled earth. Unfortunately the young man suffered a martyr’s death, effectively nullifying the fulfillment of his dream. This tragic event left it to his disciples to seek just such a solution to the world’s problems by following his oftentimes incomprehensible roadmap for our path to Nirvana, revealed through intriguing stories and visions of things to come.
For instance, the teacher said Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Spoken as a present tense condition, he intimated that these folks knew and possibly even enjoyed something the rest of us could not comprehend, let alone appreciate. No one wants to be poor by any definition, whether in spiritual, emotional or pocketbook terms. And while his pronouncement may have offered the hope of an earth-bound euphoria, his phrasing certainly worked counter to the concept of poverty in any form being a blessed condition.
The Greek world substituted for the teacher’s native Aramaic envisioned a beggar, cringing as he or she approached someone with an outstretched hand, soliciting the much needed alms for survival. He really could not have invoked a more disreputable impression in the minds of his audience unless he had said blessed are the lepers.
The act of begging is universal in the human experience. Beggars exist in every culture in every era of human history. It seems likely that we would even find them mucking about in prehistory, if we could only know all that our primordial ancestors were up to before they were able to stand upright to be up to anything. To say such a person was blessed, however, is absurd. Their struggle in life as a result of their meager condition and hopeless mindset inevitably marks them as someone to be pitied, while we try to stifle an innate tendency to view them with contempt as someone obviously deserving of their fate. So what are we to make of this proposition of the poor in spirit being blessed?
Apparently no one listening to this open-air, hillside sermon had enough courage or sufficient curiosity to interrupt him to ask for an explanation about how the unimaginable was possible, let alone desirable. It must have become more readily acceptable, however, to those who subsequently tagged along after him and listened to the full array of his stories. For those who survived him were certainly willing to lose all and become poor in order to prove the veracity of the young rabbi’s teaching.
One of those stories involved two men going to the temple to pray, one a member of the religious elite known as a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, a person reviled for being a lackey of the Roman government. The Pharisee prayed with pride about not being like such a vile person. The tax collector stood a a distance, refrained from even looking up as he prayed, beat his breast in a gesture of humiliation and asked for God’s mercy for being a sinner. Luke, who included this story in his gospel account, said it was addressed To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. (Chapter 18:9-14)
Step one for the implementation of heaven on earth begins with the human heart. And in this case the desired status for a steady pulse rate imagined a most abject person as the exemplary citizen of this new kingdom. Arrogance has no place in paradise and those who were free from this malady were considered to be blessed in this new way of perceiving how the will of God could be done on earth as it is in heaven.