Lord have mercy! What a year 2020 has been for each and every one of us! In addition to whatever individual joys and sorrows you have experienced this year, we are, as a nation, as a world, collectively experiencing a pandemic due to Coronavirus. As a nation, we have not dealt with the pandemic well. Our numbers speak for themselves. The number of deaths directly attributed to Coronavirus is around 230,000. However, the number of deaths in excess this year is about 300,000. I am not sure of the exact, most up to date numbers. But over 200,000 dead due to Covid-19 is a modest estimate. Due to the pandemic, and lock-down, some people have lost jobs, businesses have closed down, while some people are risking their lives and livelihood of their family members to provide essential services to the public.
In such a time as this, the Beatitudes seem timely.
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:1-5)
When Jesus saw the multiples, the many people who were following him, he began to teach them. Let us focus on first three of the statements to meditate, contemplate, and learn from.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
First of all, the Blessed statements seem counter intuitive. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Wouldn’t the rich seem to be blessed? Whether rich in material possessions or rich in spirit, they seem to be the ones who are blessed, not the ones who are poor or poor in spirit? Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Not for their condition in worldly terms, but for their condition brings them “the kingdom of heaven.” Does this mean only the poor in spirit will have the kingdom of heaven, as in having an eternal life with God? I believe the Kingdom of heaven is not only being in God’s presence in the afterlife ever after, but also being in God’s presence here and now. Jesus doesn’t say, blessed are the poor in spirit for when they die theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit now. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit here. God is present here and now, not only after we die. If kingdom of heaven has anything to do with being in God’s presence, why would God only be present with us when we die if God can be present with us here and now?
What is it to be poor in spirit? One of the commentaries suggested that to be poor in spirit is to be conscious of the condition of one’s spirit. It doesn’t mean that one is lacking in spirit. If we are aware of the condition of our spirit as individuals, we would be aware that we are all poor in spirit: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If we know we are not perfect, we would be humble. Moreover, we would know that we as a church, and as a nation have fallen short of the glory of God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for those who know they have fallen short of the glory of God can seek God’s glory. But lacking awareness, those who are not poor in spirit would not seek God’s glory.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Those who are aware of the condition of their spirit, would know of their ways of falling short of the glory of God. Let us reflect on ourselves, how we each of us have fallen short of the glory of God. As we recite every week in our corporate confession:
“we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”
In humble reflection, we confess to God together on every Sunday that we have sinned against God in “thought, word, and deed” and “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” and by not loving God with our whole heart and not loving our neighbors as ourselves.
As those who are poor in spirit, humbly, as we reflect, we mourn, we lament, and we grieve. We mourn for ourselves, for others, and we mourn together. In addition to the ways we have sinned against God, we have sinned against each other by not loving others as we love ourselves. We also grieve for the losses, the loved ones who died in the past year, from covid-19 or other causes, for the loss of opportunities that were lost due to the lock-down, for the ways in which being in isolation might have made us feel alone and unconnected, as well as not being able to interact with others, which enables us to show our love for others.
Those who mourn are blessed for they will be comforted. Let us read Psalm 34 which is from today’s lectionary:
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
When we mourn, when we lament, when we grieve, as children of God, we do not do it in isolation, but in community and in the presence of God. So, the psalmist can testify that he/she/they sought the Lord and that God answered, delivering them from all fears. As we stay in our grief and express to God our sadness, despair, and disappointments, we can be assured and comforted that looking at God, we can be radiant and our faces shall never be ashamed. For, when our poor soul cries, we will be heard by the Lord and will be saved from every trouble. Even the angel of the Lord will surround us and guard those who fear God will be delivered.
Lastly, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Don’t the strong, the aggressive, and the bossy ones win battles? How do the meek inherit the earth? The meek are those who are humble, those who fear the Lord, and those who are slow to anger. They will inherit the earth, here and now, and ever after. Let us turn to Revelations 7:
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
This is a vision of heaven. Those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek the kingdom of God is theirs, they will be comforted, and they will inherit the earth. Revelations is an account of the vision that John was given. This account is not by John, who was John the Baptist, or the disciple of Jesus, but John known as John of Patmos – an elder from the island of Patmos – is believed to be the author of Revelations. I love the vision that he describes. There was a “great multitude that no one could count.” Just like when Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, when he taught the Beatitudes, there was a great multitude. This multitude that John saw, no one could count. They were from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages!” We are having so much turmoil and suffering from differences of our skin color, ethnicity, heritage, or citizenship! To name a few activist movements, to those who claim Black lives matter, some respond by saying that Blue lives matter or All lives matter. There is clearly conflict and strife between people with different racial, cultural, gender, sexual-orientation, political, and social-economical classes.
But in this vision, those who are meek will inherit such an earth where all the multitude stood together before the throne and before the Lamb, our Lord and Savior, and cried out, “Salvation belongs to the Lord”…then they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Do you believe in such a blessing? Can you imagine such a world? Can you picture yourself being one in the multitude too many to count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, and worshiping God together, proclaiming that salvation belongs to God and blessing and thanking God?
This vision of the kingdom of God is what we will inherit, if we are humble in our spirit and we confess and acknowledge before God the ways we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and when we mourn for ourselves, our neighbors, and collectively, and if we come humbly to God.
1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(1 John 3:1-3)
See the love that God has given us. We are God’s children. Let us take comfort in the assurance that God loves us and will deliver us.