Second Sunday after Trinity – Year C – 10th in Ordinary Time
Blessed are you Poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven
Why should any of you think it incredible that God raises the dead?’
Years ago, when I had just started teaching, I found a boy in my class had written all over his physics text book, and being pretty new – I took the boy and the book to my HoD, a lovely gentle Quaker by the name of Paul Hopper. A man who wouldn’t harm a flea – and Paul spoke softly and gently to the boy, so softly indeed that he was struggling to hear and so drew closer to Paul, until Paul exploded – ‘You will pay for this book and Don’t you Ever do that again!!! It shocked me – goodness alone knows what it did to the boy, but he never vandalised another book 🙂
And how like Jesus . . . for IF we dare get up close, when we See what he does, when we Listen to his words they are deeply shocking – they shake us to the core, they dismantle our way of understanding the world, and we either have to surrender, to admit we don’t understand how the world works and acknowledge Him as Lord, or else build huge barricades to keep him at bay.
Jesus as revealed in the scriptures seems so remote from our experience . . . Raising the dead??? It’s as if there’s something blocking him out . . .
Did we hear the gospel?? Or were its words muffled to us?? Like I suggested the other day we sometimes say the Psalm as if we were reading cereal packet ingredients, rather than speaking in the presence of the Living God, so we may listen to the Gospel as if we’re listening to a run down on the money markets on the radio, indeed we might even pay it less attention . . . did we hear the Gospel, did we hear what Jesus did? Jesus raises a man from the dead!!
A few years ago I was at a workshop led by a talented actor named Bruce Kuhn . Bruce’s gift is memorising and ‘performing’ the Scriptures and trains others to do it. The class he taught was on this gospel passage about the widow of Nain. To be frank for all my bible knowledge, I barely remembered the passage. After all how much was raising dead people part of MY world?? Bruce related how the story had impacted on the undefended – those who hadn’t built barricades against Jesus
He had visited a school in the city of Birmingham, England, and was confronted by a huge multi ethnic class, Sikh, Hindu Muslim – few of whom knew anything of Christian faith . . . Bruce told the story . . .When the Lord saw [the widow], he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then [Jesus] came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up . . . At that point almost everyone in the room Gasped!! Shocked, by this man who raised the dead!! Jesus addressed the corpse – saying ‘Young Man Rise! – and the dead man sat up and began to speak . . .
But did we hear it, or have we also built our barricades against this Jesus who does and says outrageous things – Have we turned ‘Our’ Jesus into a safe, predictable, shadowy version of ourselves – a tame teacher of spiritual truths for a sophisticated modern age . . .
This account comes in a special place in Luke’s gospel. Jesus has announced his mission – The Kingdom of God in Ch 4, in Ch 5 he calls disciples to follow him, and choses the 12 – then in Ch 6 we have Luke’s account of ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ the core of his ethical teaching, you might say – including such gems as ‘if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other to them, and ‘Give to everyone who begs from you, if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them back . . .’, and of course, Love your enemies – do them Good . . . finishing up – ‘whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like the wise man building his house on the Rock’ . . . To jumble the metaphors, JEsus warns his hearers – ‘Do these outrageous things, or your life will end up on the rocks!’ The Kingdom is at Hand and it is outrageous according to human wisdom!! This is My World, My Kingdom – Pay attention to my crazy outrageous teaching . . .
Then the Kingdom begins to break out – there are two ‘healings’ – the first of a young man near death, whom Jesus doesn’t even visit, ‘just say the word and my servant will be healed . . .’ outrageous faith . . . and then this Raising the dead son of the widow – without a ‘by your leave’ – he just breaks all thre rules – all the ‘laws of science’ – He just does it – He speaks to a corpse and raises him from the dead!! And what happens next??
Well the crowd are shocked, and word gets out and spreads as far as John the Baptist who sends his disciples to Jesus, asking – ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?’ Luke goes on – Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?’ Are you crazy??? ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ Blessed is anyone who can allow this to be true . . .‘Go and tell John what you have seen and [what you have] heard:
This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. It’s not a feeling – or some spiritual vision – it is God healing the blind, the deaf, the lame . . . even raising them from the dead. There is nowadays amongst certain circles an odd turning of the tables on Jesus which goes like this – ‘God has to obey the laws of the universe, but we don’t have to obey the laws of God’ . . . And How the Laws of God, How the Way God organizes things trips us up . . .
Jesus starts his teaching saying – Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of heaven – the Kingdom of heaven is for the poor . . . and even in the times of Jesus there was none so poor as this widow. The only ‘social security’ is the security of family, and this woman has lost her husband and now her only son . . . in all likelihood she faces her final years as a destitute beggar on the streets . . . and SHE is the one who Sees the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t put his arm around her and say, there there – if only you understood, you would not grieve . . . no he raises her son from the dead . . . The woman who has nothing Sees the Kingdom of God – Jesus teaching could be paraphrased, blessed are the vulnerable, the weak, those who cannot stand on their own two feet, the poor the hungry and those who are weeping, those who are defenceless against reality.
It could be paraphrased – Live in vulnerability towards the world – sell your possessions – and you will find you are living in vulnerability towards God – and even you will see the Kingdom of God breaking in . . . Blessed are those who have not the resources to defend themselves from me says Jesus . . .
For this is Jesus’ Life. His teaching and his actions are so outrageous because He Lives fully before God – no shields, no defenses, nowhere to lay his head. He, the poor, meek, mourning, pure, persecuted peacemaker, LIVES in total vulnerability to the World – a world which wants nothing of Him and his ways and so Crucifies him – but because he is totally vulnerable before God, there is no barrier between Jesus dead body and the LIFE of God, and He is gloriously Raised . . . because he is totally vulnerable before the Father, the power of the Resurrection flows uninhibited through him and he restores the man to his mother . . .
Blessed are you who are poor . . . for you will see these things and indeed they still do. Around the edges, where most of us never dare venture, the Kingdom of God continues to break in
But our defences are SO high . . . We do not see these things – why do we feel we have to spiritualise them, to explain them away? Might it be that we are afraid they might be true, that all our careful barriers might come tumbling down? What is blinding us? Blessed are you poor . . . Woe to you who are rich for you have received your reward – you’ve got what you want . . .
Just after Sarah and I were married we went for a meal in Chinatown in London with some friends, but one person there Sarah and I had not met. We sat down and plates of food were put on the ‘lazy Susan’ in the middle. And this guy casually turned it round and every dish emptied about half of it onto his plate – there were six of us present . . . now THAT WAS outrageous!!!! Except . . .
The other day I was shaken to the core – brought up seriously short – and as I reflected on what had so shocked me about myself I couldn’t help but think that that person was me . . . What brought me up short?? That I realised that I had used up what you might call my fair share of the Earth’s resources by the time I was about . . . 20 – and that now, well into my 50‘s I’m doing it for the third time – without a thought for my fellow diners, let alone the kitchen staff run ragged trying to keep up with my outrageous behaviour – and the world is collapsing around my ears . . . Jesus actions outrageous??Jesus words mustn’t be taken literally?? Jesus’ healings must be seen metaphorically??? Who really is living the outrageous life?? and all the while trying to argue that God’s Anger is unreasonable . . .
I, a not untypical Modern man, have already used nearly three times of my fair share of resources, and that estimation of ‘fair shares’ keeps the earth in slavery producing flat out for me, not allowing it its own freedom, its own Sabbath rest. And of course kept back what others need, or stealing from them . . .
In other words however much I might say that the world belongs to Jesus, my life says ‘it is mine!!’ I don’t know if you have ever known a person who has trouble with hoarding? Visited their house and found you couldn’t get in – it’s as if they are building a barricade against you . . . Why don’t we see him raising the dead, or healing the Deaf and blind amongst us?? Perhaps because we’ve built our barricades so high – because if we got very very close we might hear Jesus say ‘Who said anything about it being Your world?’ Blessed are the poor . . .
You might ask at this point – what is the Gospel for me?? What is the Gospel for the those who have used up far far more than their ‘fair share, far far more than God in his Love and mercy provided for us?? What does it have to do with Jesus? Well, As St Paul says – we have to work out our Salvation – it is not easy, repentance.
There is a scene near the end of the film Ghandi where after the partition of India terrible ethnic violence has broken out especially between Muslims and Hindu. The mahatma starts to fast – to death if necessary – in the hope that the violence might stop – he takes the violence into himself you might say. As he is close to death a Hundu man comes to him and throws a chappatti at him – Here he says ‘Eat!! a Muslim killed my son, and so I killed the son of a Muslim – I will not have Your death on my conscience as well!! And then he bursts into tears. He is in Hell – he sees no way out. Ghandi tells him – there is a way of salvation for you – take an orphaned Muslim boy, bring him up as your own son – but bring him up as a Muslim . . .’ The man stands back – aghast. Salvation is laid before him . . . outrageous Salvation – what will he do? We are not told. like the man, when Jesus comes near we know Hell exists because we find ourselves there – what will we do
Jesus loves the rich – his gospel to them is outrageous Salvation – at its heart it is if you love me, keep my commandments – put my teaching into practise – -live with vulnerability towards God – in its practice?? Share your bread with the poor – give to all who beg of you – Sell your possessions, and you will have treasure in heaven – then come and follow me . . . St Augustine in his commentary on the raising of the son of the widow of Nain – says – to paraphrase – ‘Outrageous as this raising of this young man is – it is as nothing as the raising of those who are spiritually dead’ The words of Jesus are light and Life – Listen!!
‘Whoever you are . . . Rise!’ – and the dead man sat up and began to speak