I don’t think any of these passages are necessarily saying: go out and be meek and hungry and persecuted. Necessarily. Unless that is your great work (our mystics, saints, leaders, guiding lights, etc.; they took on great work and often great persecution).
These passages are asking us to look at these things and not shy away and hide from and ignore, but to dig in and look, at ourselves and at others. To be with and witness. Honor others for wherever they are at. Honor ourselves for wherever we are at. And find the glory, real glory, that comes in both extraordinary and ordinary lives. And, I’m pretty sure there’s more ordinary than extraordinary in every person’s life…even our great heroes/heroines (that’s the part of the story that doesn’t make the story, because it’s not exciting).
The Beatitudes seem to be the guidebook for the basic art of kindness and courage and compassion. In the real world, the ordinary world. As we navigate the impossible to avoid things all around us and to meet them with love in the deepest and realest sense.
This last passage of Matthew is, perhaps, a harsh reminder that life isn’t always easy and that walking a path of kindness, love, graciousness, and compassion isn’t easy. It might be a reminder that when our lives are too easy, perhaps we are missing something or skipping something. Maybe that’s why we sometimes work so hard to make our lives messy and busy and hard, even when we don’t have to…so we don’t have to look that deeply at what we’re skipping/ignoring/missing.
Maybe it’s why we fill our lives with other things. “Busy” is probably our most subversive life filler and avoider. It makes us feel accomplished and important, but…what kind of busy are we filling our lives with? The important busy, or the busy that helps us avoid the real hard work? Are we busy at the expense of what matters?
We fill our lives with things, accumulating more things and more things that will make us feel full and accomplished. Perhaps, we’ve begun to notice that the more we fill our lives with stuff and work and all those wonderfully subversive things we desire, the less rich our lives feel. Because, maybe, we’re seeking to fill our lives withs something more, but missing the mark, and filling them with something less.
At the same time, we lament not enough time to rest and restore, not enough time to do good work, to volunteer our time, not enough time for friends, for families, not enough time for play…
What matters? What matters and are we focused on it?
We can find what we need, and what we are meant to be doing, if we slow down and listen. That’s a scary thing. We do see what’s happening around us, if we slow down and listen. It is very true that God works in Mysterious ways…but if we listen…we can hear or begin to hear. It is in that quiet, with ourselves, reflecting, contemplating, that we hear the voice of Grace. That we begin to understand something bigger than ourselves.
Why do we have challenges and suffering? Perhaps because that’s the time we really remember and notice God. We tend to forget Grace when times are good. We call on God, Grace, the Divine, when we are scared and frightened. It’s human nature. We do it to ourselves too. We notice our bodies when it hurts or it’s broken. We completely ignore it when it’s fine or we’re in a manageable uncomfortableness. We do the same with God. It’s easy to get caught up in life when life is good and forget the deeper, more beautiful connections. We get busy living.
This is why Sunday morning is so very important. Time carved out each week to remember, in good and bad times, that the divine is with us. This is why gratitude is so very important. Gratitude is true Joy: the practice of seeing Grace in every moment and in every day. Practicing gratitude is practicing love of God in daily life.
This is why we need days of rest. We can call this vacation or Sabbath, but days that we don’t fill with to do’s and the stuff of life, but the days we live life on a simple and ordinary level. Reset toward love and gratitude. Reset toward what’s important. Reset to remember to listen to what’s happening around us and in us. Rest to nurture our deepest connections.
It takes time and space for listening, gratitude, and seeing. But we are each responsible for making the time and space for what’s important.
We need breaks to reset ourselves and our focus. We are no good to anyone if we are broken and no good. We feel selfish for taking care of ourselves, but it is impossible to take care of the important things if we’re unable to take care of ourselves.
This passage of persecution reminds us that we will always go through tough times and we will always face people who think and act differently than us. There will always be people slinging stones for whatever reason. It is a time to reflect on what we are doing. Are we doing good work/God Work? Are we avoiding doing good work? Are we the ones slinging the stones (metaphorically, of course)? If we are missing the mark, how can we do different? If we are on target, how can we be strong through the adversities that inevitably come up when we “make waves”?
This passage tells us that:
We must do the work anyway. Last week we asked ourselves what it is we care deeply about and reflected on how to begin, or continue, the Work. This passage tells us to keep working, even and especially when it’s at its hardest.
It reminds us to keep to the goal. The really important work. The love work. The good work. The connecting work. The God work. And to always be reassessing and reevaluating how best to do this work.
Perhaps this passage is also a warning. If life is too easy and full of easeful, wonderful things…are we forgetting something? Have we lost sight of something? Are we avoiding something?
Some of the most challenging times is when we feel alone and persecuted. We’ve all been there. This passage is there to tell us that we are never alone. That these times are opportunities to grow. That real happiness and Grace and love and Joy (heaven) come out of these most challenging, lonely, awful of times. We are not alone and we will get through tough times.
It’s easy to distance ourselves as much as possible from these uncomfortable experiences, but this passage is telling us to stay with it. Be with it. Be present with it. Acknowledge it. Focus on what there is to learn out of life’s experiences. Heaven is in there…heaven is in there. What do we do with it? How do we find heaven in the midst of the terrible? We call on God and we trust. We don’t hide from the lessons. We learn and grow and out of our experiences, so that we can be a part of spreading more true Love.