the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - All Saints' Canon Jim Irvine
How blest are those who know that they are poor;
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

 Then [Jesus] began to speak, and taught them, saying:
How blest are those who know that they are poor;
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5: 3 New English Bible

 

I have never had to suffer a migraine. I have known those who are afflicted with migraines, and I have observed the impact of unimaginable pain. And while I can attest to the impact, and its crippling effect, the pain remains unknown to me. I understand that light and sound brings torment beyond the limits naturally associated with normal headaches. Shades are drawn and silence is called for and the afflicted sufferer takes to a bed and seeks quiet and rest and healing.

Poverty is like that, for me.

I have never had to suffer the life of those who live without, of those who live in poverty. Oh, I have known those whose lives are diminished and disadvantaged. I have sat with them. I have shared time and conversation and even tea with them. I have seen the consequences of insufficiency in the lives of children and their struggling parents. But I have had the opportunity to place my hand on a doorknob and leave. Perhaps it was an escape, as I saw the burden of poverty on the faces and in the cupboards of those whom Jesus tells us are blest!

Oh, I know what it feels like to wish that I had more. But that isnít the same, is it, as poverty?

My discomfort with lack demands much of me in order to grasp Jesusí beatitude and its penetrating implications. This is a blessing Iím not sure that I want to receive. Looking around, Iíd say itís not a blessing anyone I know wants to have. Best, weíd say, to remain as we are and allow ourselves to speculate on what Jesus meant without discovering blessing in a life lived in need.

I can understand the temptation that we might want to spiritualize the beatitudes. Better to reach beyond ourselves and our limitations for solace. But that wasnít Jesusí good news. His news reached out to us, those who went ahead of us anyway, to touch lives as they are.

How blest are those who know that they are poor;
The kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Poverty is not the virtue. We see nothing laudable in need. In the transformative proclamation of the Nazarene, the kingdom is proclaimed, and beginning with those that know that they are poor. The kingdom is theirs.

With the immediacy of present knowing, need has the discovery of a kingdom breaking into the history of Godís creation. And our lives.

Satisfied with our sufficiency, or at worst, wanting more than what we have in an application of avarice and greed, we are loath to embrace the kingdom lest it jeopardize our present estate.

How blest are those who know that they are poor;
The kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Would that I had the courage to know my poverty, my need, myself better. Not to discover a spiritual poverty, neither a spiritual need. Not a need that becomes in its fulfillment beyond my mortal reach, but a recognition of what Jesus proclaimed as good news and blessing in the midst of those whose insufficiency allowed them to seek him out, to gather round, and to listen with hope in the midst of pain. Jesus declares the kingdom is in our midst! The knowledgeable poor know that.

As I know my need I discover myself, and in the discovery, a kingdom. Good news indeed!

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999