The Feast of All Saints, Year C – Luke 6:20-31
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the ones who are weeping. But woe to the rich, the full, and the ones who are laughing.
Poverty over riches, hunger over fullness, and weeping over laughing. Are those the priories you have in your life today? Is that what you want for yourself? Your spouse and children? Your grandchildren? Is that the kind of life you are living today?
Let me just start by saying I don’t like those priorities. That’s not what I grew up believing. That’s not what I aspired to. That’s not how I want to live my life. And I am pretty sure that’s not the dream my parents had for me. It’s sure not the dream I have for Randy or had for Brandon. And I want more than that for Cyndy.
Jesus has a way of messing with our expectations of what really matters, our beliefs about how we should live, and our aspirations for the direction of our life. More often than not he reverses the usual expectations, beliefs, and aspirations. His view of what life, meaning, power, and success look like – what we might call the Kingdom of God – is mostly at odds with the world’s view and sometimes our own. And if today’s gospel (Luke 6:20-31) is a hard message to hear, it’s an even harder life to live.
It asks us some hard questions. It asks us to look at our life in light of Jesus’ blessings and woes. What do the reversals in today’s gospel bring up for you? In what ways do they challenge or contradict
- Where you find meaning;
- Your aspirations and how they are shaping your life; and
- How, not what, but how you want to be in the world and in relationship to others?
It would be easy to hear the blessings and woes in today’s gospel as rewards and punishments or a categorization of saints and sinners, but that would be a mistake and a misunderstanding of the gospel. There is nothing inherently virtuous or holy about poverty, hunger, or grief. God knows the world doesn’t need more pain or misery. And there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about being rich, full, or laughing.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about what or how much we have or don’t have. It’s not about a bottomline calculation of our bank balance, the number of meals or calories we get each day, or whether we spend more time crying than laughing. Jesus is talking about a quality not a quantity.
He is talking about how we are in the world, not what we are, but how we are. And I know from my own life that when I am poor, hungry, weeping, whether materially, emotionally, or spiritually, I am more open and receptive. I am looking for something new, a different way of being in the world. But when I am rich, full, and laughing, whether materially, emotionally, or spiritually, I mostly want more of the same. I am not looking for anything new or different. I work to defend and keep the status quo.
The what of our life can too easily determine or corrupt the how of our life. Maybe the blessings and woes are descriptive of two different hows of life. One in which our hearts, hopes, and aspirations are turned toward the coming of something new, something different. We are open to the future, to one another, to the possibility of what seems impossible. And where there is a future there is life, and more life. The other way of being in the world, the other how, is closed to the future, to each other, to something new or different. We are self-enclosed and self-sufficient. We are bound to the world as it is. It has become our treasure.
What if we were to think of blessings and woes as guardrails on the road of life? What if they are like those bumpers kids sometimes use at the bowling alley? What if they are guides to making the kingdom present?
Do you remember the hot and cold game? Maybe you played it as a kid or maybe you’ve played it with your own children or grandchildren. Someone picks an object in the room but doesn’t identify it to the other players. The others players move about searching for the object and are told “You’re warm. Yes, you’re getting warmer. Oh, now you’re cold. You’re ice cold.” It’s a way of telling the players if they are close to or far from the object. What if blessings and woes are Jesus saying we are either warm or cold toward the kingdom, getting close to or moving away from it?
You see the kingdom is not a what. It is a how. It is not a place or a time or a thing, but a way of being in this world. You and I give existence to the kingdom by the how of our being in the world. The kingdom is God’s dream, hope, desire and longing for the world. It is God’s call to us. And it is up to us to respond and make it present. And sometimes we do.
From time to time the kingdom actually happens through our how of being in the world. That’s what we remember and celebrate today, the Feast of All Saints. We remember and give thanks for those people whose how of life gave existence to God’s kingdom and life in this world in their time and place. They are witnesses that we too can give existence to the kingdom, to God’s how of being, in our life, time, place, and circumstances.
Some of those people are name brand saints, the ones who have a place on the calendar. Philip, Mary, Luke, Augustine, Theresa, Francis, and Clare. Others are local and particular to us, known only to us. They are not on the church’s calendar and their only place is in our heart. I think of my grandmother Bum Bum, my great uncle WaWa, my best friends John and David, my spiritual directors Fr. Kelly and Sr. Marie.
Some have died. Others still live. All stand with and companion us as teachers, examples, and guides. They have cared for and nurtured us, loved and guided us, taught and mentored us. They showed us a how of being that was vibrant and alive, holy and earthy.
The kingdom comes locally, temporarily, intermittently, episodically in our particular circumstances through our how of being in the world. It mostly happens on the margins of power, at the edges, and rarely at the center. It is the reversal of all reversals. The kingdom comes, is actually here, is really real, whenever we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek to those who strike us, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive our offender, give to the beggar.*
Every time we do to others as we would have them do to us we give existence to the kingdom.
Have you ever thought of yourself as having the privilege and responsibility of giving existence to the kingdom? Have you ever thought that God might need you as much as you need God? Have you ever thought of yourself as a saint, as one whose how of life matters and makes a difference to others and to the world?
What if we were to step into the how of sainthood in our particular time and place, in the unique circumstances of our life, in our daily relationships? What would that look like in your life today? In what ways might it change or reshape the how of your life?
* John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory, 138.