“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1:27)
Jesus had a way of confounding the people of the world when he walked among us, and he still confounds them today.The Beatitudes, as they are known, has been called the little catechesis, or teaching of the church. They center around something that has been proclaimed in the Gospel reading for the last two weeks; the kingdom of heaven.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, said St. John the Baptist, and also said our Lord Jesus.
In Jesus day, it seems that the rich people had it all. They had the big houses, the nice careers, even the best camels. One man even named is camel “Lexis.” No, I’m just kidding about that. But, as has been said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The poor folk of Jesus day had nothing. No big houses, no cushy jobs, and certainly no camels. And they had no hope that life would ever be anything more than hardship.
In the eyes of society, these people were the losers. They had no education and no prospects, and hardly any future. It was to these that Jesus came.
St Paul wrote, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Notice that Jesus went up onto a mountain to teach. Remember how Moses went up onto a mountain to receive a teaching? A mountain is a place where you can get closer to God, literally and figuratively.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, when you are down and out, and at the end of your rope, you are blessed. Why, because, if you have nothing else, you have the kingdom of heaven. You are loved and cherished by the King of heaven. You are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
If you are sad, or mournful, you will be comforted, or strengthened, by the King of heaven.
The wise and the powerful people of this world seem to have everything, but when you have nothing, you have something greater than they do. You belong to the kingdom of heaven.
Verses 3 through 6 deal teach us that our Father cares for the lowliest among us, and that when we feel empty and alone, he values us more than ever. He wants us to know he loves us.
During my annual clergy retreat this past week, I had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of the Reconciliation of a Penitent. If you haven’t seen it, it’s in our Book of Common Prayer, conveniently located between The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and the Burial of the Dead. It seems so appropriate, doesn’t it?
I took advantage of this sacrament because I felt a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, and afterward that need was satisfied.
At the Holy Eucharist a little later, one of our elderly priests who had not come to the retreat, entered the room, and asked the Bishop for his prayers. After the service, the Bishop asked his rural deans to come forward to lay hands on this priest and to pray for him. I was so humbled and grateful to be among that small number of priests, and with the burdens of sin lifted from my soul, I felt the power of the Holy Spirit through my hand as I laid it on his shoulder. He wept as he asked for a word of encouragement. I looked at him and said, “You are a faithful priest of God, my brother.” The look in his eyes said everything.
If the Lord chose me, he surely chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise. God chose the weak in this world to shame the strong.
Weakness is despised in our culture. Any sign of weakness is pounced on by those with axes to grind. If anyone has a weak moment, like when he says something stupid, he is branded for eternity. I have had weak moments, because I am a feeble human. I am so glad that everything I say is not recorded and posted on Twitter, or else you might want me to hit the road! I would hate it if you were ashamed to know me.
That is how our Father works. He turns the norms of society upside down. He values what is despised by the wise and powerful. He loves the unlovable. He accepts the unacceptable. When we are weak, then he is strong.
While we here in this church today are loved and accepted by our Father, there are many out there in the world who do not feel loved and accepted. There are many who feel that our Father would never forgive the terrible things they have done, so they don’t even try.
They hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is to get right with God, but they don’t know how, and they are sure that they don’t deserve any mercy.
The teaching of Jesus today is that we all deserve mercy and forgiveness. No matter what they have done in he past, Jesus asks them, and us, to repent. He asks us to forsake our ways of chasing happiness through the gratification of our desires, and turn toward him.
The Beatitudes offer us a glimpse of what that looks like. Verses 7, 8, and 9 teach us that mercy, purity of heart, and making peace in the face of conflict are heavenly virtues. They teach us how to deal with each other. This is how our Father wants us to act.
Verses 10 and 11 teaches us that if you are a follower of Jesus, you will be persecuted, or at least someone will make fun of you. I don’t know how many times that has happened to me. I used hang around some bikers who regularly made fun of me. That was OK, because I knew that it was for the sake of Jesus, and I never tried to fight it.
People in this world do not like the lowly, the weak, and the foolish. Jesus, in his characteristic way, turns the order upside down, and he puts value on the weak, and the meek, and the humble. He does this because it is only then that he can find room in the hearts of those whom he loves. A heart full of pride and vainglory has no room at the inn.
Just like that lowly manger, a heart that is open and empty will be filled by Word made flesh, and there will the kingdom of heaven be. Amen.