“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you…. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven….”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If we think about goodness in terms of theology – then God is the only one we can technically describe as good. God is goodness itself, the infinite fullness of goodness that he possesses according to his divine nature. Now, everything else that he created – everything else that is not God – is also good, for God said that it was good after he created it. But everything that exists in the world is only good because it receives its existence from the God who is good. The goodness of the world is a gift; it is good because it has been given a share in the goodness of God. So, there is God who is good in and of himself and then there is the world that’s full of all his creatures; these are not good in and of themselves, but are only good because they share in the goodness of God. That’s why poverty is such a scandal: it is the failure of the goodness of the world to be shared. It is an offence against creation.
Anyway, creation tells us if it exists, it’s good, because it wouldn’t exist at all unless God had created it in the first place. And the God who is good only creates things that are good. On the flip side, that means that there are actually no evil things in the world. The only things that exist are creatures of God; and again, the God who is good only creates things that are good. So, not only are there no evil things in the world, but evil itself is not even a thing. You’ll never be on a walk and accidentally trip over something called “evil.” Evil is like a parasite: it doesn’t exist on its own, but only in the corruption of something else that is exists, something else that is good. And that means that evil is also like poverty, for it is the deprivation of something else that is good.
Our Collect this morning says that we find ourselves afflicted by “the weakness of our mortal nature” -- another kind of poverty. Death weighs us down at every turn; all our weaknesses and vulnerability to damage are the symptoms of death’s dark shadow that is cast over our lives. “Our mortal nature” involves much more than just our physical weakness or our suffering or the inevitability of death, for it also accounts for our moral weakness as well. Death is the consequence of our original disobedience, our rejection of the grace and fellowship of God. And now that we’ve forfeited the state of grace into which we were created, we discover that we’ve forfeited our ultimate happiness as well. We can do no good thing without thee.
If the happy ones are those “who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful,” then that should explain why happiness seems to evade us, for who among us has never walked with the wicked? More often than we’d like to admit, we’re like the cursed man in our reading from Jeremiah, the one “who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”
Even though we know full well that we are unreliable guides to happiness, we continue to put our trust in ourselves and our own fragile attempts at self-sufficiency. We continue to turn our hearts away from God and his infinite goodness and happiness and towards ourselves. We reject the delight that is found in the law of the Lord, preferring instead to be “like the chaff which the wind blows away”; “like a shrub in the desert [that] shall not see any good come.”
These habits of ourselves are quite literally absurd. We were created for happiness, created for the delight that comes through meditation on God, created good in order to return to the goodness of our Creator. Our sin is simply the suspicion that this truth is in fact a lie. And so we deceive ourselves with lies of our own, thinking that there is much more to be gained from lies than the truth.
The world that we’ve built with these lies is the world in which our Savior came to dwell. And his entrance into the world as one of us makes him rather peculiar. An impossible mystery, even. For as a human being like the rest of us, he too was subject to the weakness of our mortal nature. His body could be damaged, just like ours. His stomach could twist in hunger, just like ours. His eyes could shed tears of grief, just like ours. Thus, he is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses [as] one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
That last part is what makes Jesus so odd compared to the rest of us. He took upon himself the weakness of our mortal nature – the full measure of our temptations, the weight of death, the sorrows our sins have wrought – but without ever once deserving them. He acquainted himself with our condition by living “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), all while having no sinfulness of his own. That means that Christ was both the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) and the “happy man” of our Psalm at the same time: he is the one who delights in the law of the Lord because he is none other than the Lord through whom the law was spoken.
Now, all of this was actually just a set-up for talking about our Gospel today. But we have to understand the background before we can understand why it’s the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated who get Christ’s blessing while the rich, the full, the laughing, and the esteemed get his judgment.
Remember that Christ came to show us the truth of who we are. He is the Light that shines in the darkness. And the truth of who we are is that we are weak and that we are mortal. It’s the truth that we will do just about anything to ignore. If given the choice, most of us would probably prefer a life full of wealth and security that will pass away like chaff over a life of meditation on the law of God that will last for eternity. The weakness of our mortal nature is that we want a fleeting consolation now instead of a reward that is great in heaven.
Of course, not everyone actually gets the consolation of wealth and security. The poor are under no illusion that this world is fully satisfying. They don’t need to be cursed in order to be “like a shrub in the desert”; like the one who dwells “in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” For the poor and the hungry, that’s just life.
So, while every human being is tempted to ignore the truth of who we are, some of us are able to ignore it more successively than others. That’s the main difference between the rich and the poor: the rich are able to acquire enough consolation for themselves to pretend that they’re safe and secure from the curse of death; meanwhile, the poor don’t even bother pretending.
And that makes the poor a lot like Christ, because like the poor, our Lord didn’t bother pretending either. Like the man of sorrows, the poor are also acquainted with grief. Christ knew, despite all of dazzling appearances to the contrary, that our world is broken; that it is parched. He knew that we had fallen into weakness and death, incapable of doing anything good on our own and therefore unable to reach the happiness of God. And since that was the truth of who we are, it was fitting that he lived in this world in such a way that the truth could no longer be ignored. That’s why he became poor.
Christ blessed the entire human race simply by becoming incarnate as a human being. But if the humanity of Christ blesses humanity as whole, then the poverty of Christ blesses the poor in particular. He blesses them by being one of them. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul says, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Gospel of our Lord is that it the way has been opened for us to become rich with the reward of heaven; the reward of eternal happiness, the vision of God. But the paradox is that it is by his poverty that we might become rich. Christ blesses us not by granting us the wealth of this world and all its false consolations, but by transforming our poverty – the weakness of our mortal nature – into the path to blessing.
So, if you are poor, know that Christ is with you and that He blesses you with his presence. He brings you the dignity that this world has so unjustly withheld from you. Know that his power is made perfect in weakness. And if you’re not poor, first give thanks to God for his provision – that you are fortunate enough to have what every human being justly deserves – and then pray that God would acquaint you with the grief that your station could be sheltering you from. You might need a little more help coming face to face with the weakness of your mortal nature, because it’s often easier to grasp a spiritual truth when your material conditions reflect it. Because, no matter how much or how little you have, the truth about who we are is that we are all poor and weak: we are all poor because we lack the very thing we need to be happy; we are all weak because we can do no good thing without thee. But thanks be to God that he has supplied for us the grace that we need; that by his poverty, we might become rich. Amen.