Cultivate and Let Go
by Timothy J. Mooney
Jesus can be maddening at times. In Luke 6:37 we find him saying, “Do not judge and you will not be judged…for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” But then, in our text today, Jesus makes a series of very strong judgments. I’ll concentrate on just one: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Realizing that I was already in deep water, I figured I better confer with the experts, so I asked Molly to email the parents in our church and ask their children this question: “What do you think Jesus meant when he said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’” Here are some of the responses from our wonderful children. Forest said, “It means you don’t have much Spirit. Robby said it meant, “No people” and then he changed his mind and said that it meant, “no one has any food.” Katie said it meant, “Bless the poor who have hope that things will get better.” And Colin put it this way, “The homeless get magic gifts like miracles, maybe they win the lottery or something.”
Even our children would confess it is a confusing saying! What is Jesus getting at? I’ll offer my own thoughts: I think he is pointing to our tendency to judge, and make assumptions about the things we are so sure of. When he says, “Blessed are you who are poor” we shake our head because it’s the exact opposite of what we assume. We usually think blessed are the wealthy, healthy, the ones who have all they need to live and live well!
We don’t want to be poor or lacking in any way. In our prayers we ask God to take all our limitations and difficulties away from us, just like the people who came to Jesus to be healed of all their afflictions. The scripture text says that ALL of them were healed. But what about us? We don’t seem to get the same results. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” What is Jesus saying?
What if being poor, is a way of recognizing and accepting our limitations?
Percy Ainsworth writes, “There is a poverty in which we are all involved. In the eyes of heaven all the paupers are not in the poorhouses. Spiritually poor is a description that fits all people everywhere. What is it? It is a dearth of essentials, a paucity of the things that make for life. It is a lack of love, faith, wisdom, holiness, vision, and hope. It is a poverty that manifests itself not in a ragged coat or a pinched face, but in selfishness and blindness and moral weakness and spiritual deadness…The spiritually poor are all of us in our human weakness, ignorance, and sinfulness. But the “poor in spirit” are those of us who realize and confess that we are weak, ignorant, sinful…There are few things that loom larger in our daily consciousness than an empty bank account. But we will go years with an empty heart, a pauper spirit, without realizing it…Poor narrow thoughts, starved hopes, a sordid self-regarding, ungenerous, un-aspiring inner life, a hard, loveless heart, a life without a vision of God, without sacrifice, and without peace – this is real poverty, even as the opposite of all this is real wealth.” Poverty of Spirit, Percy Ainsworth, Weavings Jan/Feb 2000, p. 31-32.
Percy’s words ring true, but it’s always better to find the meaning in someone’s life story. Judy Cannato is a Spiritual Director. She relies on her ability to listen deeply to her clients. But since her 20’s her hearing has declined rapidly. Hearing aids help, but still she must give great effort, pay deep attention, and rely on reading lips and body language to help her “hear” another. On her better days her physical poverty reminds her of her spiritual poverty, but often she finds herself resisting both.
The call for you and me is simply to become who we are, allowing nothing to diminish our essential humanity as we experience diminishments along the way.
Sometimes she doesn’t want to hear anything at all, so she removes her hearing aids. What a relief not to give such effort to listening, which comes so easily to others! But she does not find silence. She finds the constant ringing of tinnitus, and the incessant chatter of her mind. When she is physically and emotionally fatigued she often reacts to her hearing loss as a victim. She begins to think “they” should speak louder, “they” should not turn their backs to her, “they” should not hide their lips. And from that place of being a victim, it is easy for her to succumb to the fear of complete hearing loss, leading to isolation, and a profound loneliness, which is her greatest fear.
She writes, “Living out of the role of a victim is partially motivated by the desire to escape the isolation that accompanies not only hearing loss, but the human condition as well. Each of us is faced with bouts of existential loneliness that threaten to engulf our being. Living as a victim is a way to seek to terminate the feeling of isolation by establishing false connections to others that can be made through being taken care of, while avoiding the challenge of dealing with diminishment or impairment in a manner that is responsible and freeing. Fear of the future allows me to further avoid embracing the provisional nature of existence. This sort of anxiety is an attempt to guarantee security and avoid uncertainty… The reality is this: the future is unknown and unknowable. All I can do is choose how I will live into it. While uncertainty is uncomfortable, it is nevertheless a necessary underpinning of freedom. My hearing loss is not about hearing loss. It is the means by which I can grasp more clearly what it means to be human. Embracing this poverty brings not loss or diminishment, but wholeness and connection. Selective hearing, choosing not to hear at all, living as a victim, or surrendering to fear – these are the losses that impose isolation and bring about loneliness.”
“Blessed are you who are poor?” Maybe Jesus is saying something like this: The call for you and me is simply to become who we are, allowing nothing to diminish our essential humanity as we experience diminishments along the way. Judy Cannato puts it this way. “True listening proceeds from a heart characterized by receptivity rather than selectivity, freedom rather than fear.”
“Blessed are you who are poor,” is classic reverse theology meant to reverse our usual merit-badge thinking. Carl Jung put it this way, “where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold.” (Falling Upward, Richard Rohr, p. 46.) We are not in control of what happens to us, only to how we hear and respond! God’s grace does not erase our poverty but transforms it. Instead of being a place of absence, my impoverishment, your impoverishment, can become a place of Presence.
Richard Rohr says, “The tragic sense of life is not unbelief, pessimism, fatalism, or cynicism. It is just ultimate and humiliating realism, which for some reason demands a lot of forgiveness of almost everything. Faith is simply to trust the real, and to trust that God is found within it.” (Rohr, p. 63) We are poor, limited, yet rich beyond measure.
Colin’s words, “The homeless get magic gifts like miracles, maybe they win the lottery or something,” reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” If we think nothing is a miracle, we are already full. If we think everything is a miracle we know we are poor, and suddenly the world can become full of God’s goodness and presence.
I’ll let Judy Cannato have the final words: “The paradox that lies at the heart of the matter is that within the experiences of impairment and diminishment, I most often encounter the potential for wholeness and connection. The hearing loss that is a component of my every interaction…is an ever-present reminder that I am impoverished. Accepting this poverty, saying yes to it with as much freedom and love as I possibly can at that moment, allows me to live in the provisional present that God then transforms through grace. And I discover in these grace-filled moments one final, delightful paradox: it is my hearing loss that is my greatest hearing aid.”