Blessed be the inner-poor

Photo by Jonathan Borba

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.

This week, we have Jesus’ most profound sermon — The Beautitudes. This sermon is accounted for in both Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, it’s more extensive and it’s called the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. But this week, we have Luke’s account, which isn’t quite as extensive and is called the ‘Sermon on the Plain’.

I think this is fascinating. Same event. Two writers. One (Matthew) has Jesus up high on a mountain in glorious splendor. The other (Luke) has him on level ground with ‘the people’.

These writers blatantly take creative license over how they portray the story. I take it that Matthew was an accountant and Luke was a physician turned social activist (from what little I know about them).

So, focusing in on Luke’s account, we have Jesus on level ground with the people, not on a mount of any sort. I love how this brings this ‘newborn king’ down to Earth (quite literarily). He stood with them, not above them. Very strange for such a highly esteemed social influencer of his time. For some, it was refreshing. For others, offensive. Either way, it was de-centering.

From a contemplative approach, this sermon is pure gold. Jesus is dropping non-dual wisdom that makes Yoda look like a schoolboy.

Here are some things I scribbled down as I was taking notes on this sermon…

Poor => Kingdom of God
Hungry => Filled
Weep => Laugh
Hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed => Blessed
Rich => Woe
Full => Hungry
Laughing => Mourn and weep
Spoke well of => Possible false prophet

At this point, it’s important to talk about Jesus’ use of the words ‘rich’ and ‘poor’. And I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface here…

There were no ‘conscious capitalists’ in Jesus’ day. There wasn’t anyone creating a successful lifestyle brand on Instagram selling cupcakes. If you were rich, you were likely a slave owner, part of the domination system, and overall horrible, murderous person.

So there’s that.

[Please don’t feel bad if you’ve become financially well-off while adding to the world (or even making cupcakes). We can actually do that these days. Thanks be to God.]

Contemplatively speaking, when Jesus talks about poverty and richness, we can see him as talking about inner poverty and inner richness.

This ‘inner poverty’ that Jesus points to acknowledging how poor we are, in and of our small selves.

This ‘inner richness’ that Jesus describes someone who thinks they have everything they need, in and of themselves. They disregard the forces surrounding them — human and non-human — that has aided to their worldly success (know anyone like that)?

The former — the inner-poor — have humility and can laugh at the fumbling experience of being human. They’re open to being integrated into the body of Christ (human community) and acknowledge the health of the planet for allowing them to live and breathe and eat and whatnot.

The latter — the inner-rich — think they’re self-made successes. They did it all themselves. Their duty stops at the boundary marked by their skin. Anything outside of this boundary is fair game.

We, as petty ego-driven identities go, are poor AF. We got nothing. All we can do is put out our cup and receive.

Everything is a gift. This very breath is undeserved. This very beat of our heart is as well. There is no guarantee that the water is drinkable or remains drinkable. But it is.

All we can do is acknowledge, cherish, hold it sacred and receive.