Blessed? Don’t you mean cursed?

(Click Here to listen to this article as it was preached on Sunday Jan 31 2011)

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Gospel of Jesus – according to the Jesus Seminar suggests that the core of the Beatitudes probably refers to the poor the hungry and the weeping.  The scholars translate the word makarios “Blessed” as “Congratulations.

“Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you. Congratulations you hungry! You will have a feast.  Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh.” Gospel of Jesus 2:3-5

If ever there was a saying that is counter intuitive, then this must be it.

Don Cupitt in “Theology’s strange return” points out that “In post modernity Christianity is being progressively deconstructed, as text and subtext come apart and we we begin to recognize that the religion was first created by a very large-scale act of repression.   The original Jesus was far too radical a figure.  He had to be very heavily veiled, and became the Christ of faith, the incarnate word of God and the ever obedient Son of his heavenly Father.  Thus weirdly disguised, Jesus could be presented by apostles an priests as the central figure in a great myth of redemption which promises the believer a permanently deferred union with God that does not dethrone God.  The object of the complicated manoeuvres here was to preserve just a little bit of what Jesus had been about while yet retaining in full the divine transcendence, the supernatural world, the system of religious mediation and, above all, priestly and disciplinary power. But in postmodernity it is all coming apart.  We begin to see that historical ecclesiastical Christianity was from the first constituted by a great repression of something bigger and better that lies behind it, something that is now at last coming into view.” (Introduction xv)

This radical Jesus, and that piercing scalpel that dissects hypocrisy wherever it has taken form, is nowhere more visible than in these teachings from the Beatitudes.  It matters little whether you take the canonical account of Matthew or the Jesus Seminar version above, the effect is the same.  Jesus is turning the conventional wisdom of the spiritual country club on its head.

All the conditions of human suffering that we pray to avoid and for whose victims we pray in our Sunday and weekday intercessions are congratulated and declared as blessed and happy for it would seem that in Jesus view they have access to the imperial reign (Kingdom) of God.

Having just passed through the consumer orgy of Christmas, and living in Africa where the poor cannot be sanitarily avoided, the words of Jesus seem to amplify the bloated material hangover whose toxins seem to linger long into the new year.

Could it be that peace, joy and hope are not consumer goods, but are rather purveyed in the depth of trust that is born of human struggle and suffering?  We do ourselves and the gospel a great disservice when we spiritualize the Beatitudes and assume they refer only to mind or soul states. The poor are really poor, the weeping are crying real tears.

Moreover, the weeping hungry poor, do not need platitudes and deferred promises of redemption.

They want what they cannot have, and miraculously discover that God is closer in the wanting than in the having.  We who have whatever we want never seem to even get close to hearing Christ’s congratulations.

This is confusing.  It traps my ego and my comfort culture.  I suppose it must be from Jesus.

Lord help me to stop praying for the blessings that I want.  I am coming to see that my desired “blessings” might end up being curses that take me further from you.”

Lifting our Mater from our Materialism

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Some months ago I was in conversation with a woman who works at the Trust Division of a large bank. I commented that her task was more complex than mine as a minister as she had to deal with both the dimensions of grief and money. Without skipping a beat she replied, “Oh no, when I have had conversations with surviving families in the almost twenty years I have been doing this work, not once have I encountered any signs of grief!

Her comment was for me a confirmation of Jesus’ teaching all those years ago, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Also recently, I learnt of a widow who was cheated out of her entire estate by a smooth talking financial advisor who was her personal banker and who through winning her confidence by taking her in his car to her doctor and by running errands for her, eventually had her sign a power of attorney which he then used to empty her investment accounts! At one level it is fortunate that she died just months before the small balance left in her one account was exhausted, for this dignified trusting woman faced penury. Yes, of course she was silly, even stupid, to sign the power of attorney in the first place but my attention keeps going to the man who committed this crime. A man whose profile you could find on Facebook if I gave you his name and who still walks around the city where this happened, with his wife and family. The resentment and impotent anger I feel even as I write this reminds me that Jesus is correct.

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The founding father of Methodism, John Wesley, understood this when he wrote in his journal, “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.

Of course money in itself is ethically neutral.

There is a power of good being done at this very minute that you are reading this by the skilful application of money to situations of need and suffering all over the planet. However, at the same time that you are reading this a whole heap of evil is accumulating around issues of money in every suburb of the global village.

I need to be very careful in understanding that Jesus is not warning about money, he is warning about greed.

The greed for money can destroy us as we live to” make a killing” instead of working to “make a living”, or a “giving.”

But greed can take many forms: the greed for attention, the greed for control,  the greed for security.

When I went off in search of the roots of the word I found this:

Old.English. grædig “voracious,” also “covetous,” from Proto.Germanic. *grædagaz (cf. Old.Saxon. gradag, Old.Norse. graðr “greed, hunger”), from base *græduz (cf. Gothic. gredus “hunger,” O.E. grædum “eagerly”), cognate with Sanskrit. grdh “to be greedy.” In Greek., the word was philargyros, lit. “money-loving.” A German word for it is habsüchtig, from haben “to have” + sucht “sickness, disease,” with sense tending toward “passion for.”

So greed seems to be a rather universal concept, from Norse and Saxon to Indian Sanskrit, the word seeks to describe the universal problem. A “sickness to have something”.

It is the root of our addictions.

In this connection I am reminded that Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous was in correspondence and greatly helped by Carl Jung the Swiss Psychiatrist. In a very significant letter, that Bill W. treasured all his life, Jung writes about a patient whom he and Bill W had cared for:

Dear Mr. W.

(Note: Emphasis mine)

Your letter has been very welcome indeed.

I had no news from Rowland H. anymore and often wondered what has been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason that I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.

His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.*

How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?

The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.

I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.

These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.

You see, “alcohol” in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.

Thanking you again for your kind letter

I remain

Yours sincerely

C. G. Jung*

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” (Psalms 42:1)

As an object of addiction, money can fuel greed in the same way that alcohol fuels alcoholism.

Spiritus contra Spiritum.

From another angle, have you noticed the Latin word for Mother [MATER] in the word MATERialism?

Could it be, that in this Male-energy dominated Patriarchal world (PATER = Father [Latin]) that has created its male dominated Patriarchal religion; there is a resultant craving for Mothering (MATERing), and just as the alcoholic confuses spirits for Spirit, we as materialists have confused the material for Mother?

If that is true, then thank God for the movement we are seeing in our day, away from the Sky God PATER to the Earth Goddess MATER!

Notice how for years we have unconsciously used the female reference, when we have spoken of RAPING
the Earth. Raping our Mother?

Jesus knew that materialism was a false god. What a mountaineer friend of mine describes as a path that leads to a false summit.

Materialism does not diminish the Patriarchal craving for power and possessing.

Our salvation lies not in the material but in the maternal. The nurturing, inclusive, enfolding of God is all that will still our raging consumptive addictions. We need to recognise that calling God our Mother is not a feminist whim, it is the key to our survival.

If we won’t allow the Spirit of our nurturing, inclusive, enfolding Mother to enrapture us, then the ruptured oil wells will continue to bleed death from the rapist’s wounds and the air will be choked from us all by his rapist foul breath.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

At the end of that alchemical work, Faust, by Goethe, the Mystical choir sings:

All that is transitory

shows us the way

is only a symbol;

What seems unachievable

here is seen done;

What’s indescribable

here becomes fact

Woman eternally,

shows us the way.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.