Sunday, January 30, 2011


"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - From the lectionary for this morning

It's not uncommon for people to "proof text" this specific passage, from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, when they are feeling put upon by those they perceive as enemies. Frequently they will also cite the place in John's Gospel where Jesus tells his listeners that the world will hate them. If you're feeling hated by the world, there's much comfort in reading or hearing such lines. Chances are, though, if you're a middle class American who is reading this on the internet, you're used to having "the world" bless you. That's why any momentary adversity can sting and fester. Some people even seek out persecution in the hope of being sanctified by it.

At church this morning, our intern, Angel (yes, that's her name!), pointed out that the people who first heard those lines did not have to seek out persecution. It was the normal condition of their lives. The world—the Greek word "kosmos" literally means "the ornament"—had left them and their unadorned lives behind. Thus, the idea that they were blessed was subversive, since it ran counter to everything that common sense told them about life. They were the poor and marginalized in a remote part of the vast Roman Empire. Many of them worked land that had been legally stolen from them, struggling to pay off debts that only rose with each passing season. By calling them blessed ("makarioi" in Greek), Jesus was literally speaking a blessing into existence. In line with Old Testament prophets like Amos and Isaiah, he was pointing out the obvious fact that the world cared nothing for those who had been passed over in the search for economic gain, and he called the world to account for it.

Ironically, it seems that our politics have now produced two different ways in which "the world" can hate the poor and marginalized. As many have pointed out, the president's State of the Union address last week included no mention of such people. Instead, it was "morning in America" all over again, as a very smart politician put his opponents on the defensive. And defensive they were, suggesting that reality is going to call for much different policies: ones that will hurt. Who, exactly, will be hurt by such policies is never stated, but it's pretty clear that it won't be those whom the world has already blessed.

So here's some food for thought: If you, like me, are on the upside of America's current financial crisis, then you are being blessed by the world, and the world is liking you just fine. If you want to find the blessing that comes from God, you could learn a lot from the people whom none of the politicians so much as mentioned last week: the ones who have yet to see any benefit from the "recovery." Many of them no longer appear in the unemployment statistics, because they've given up looking. They may have concluded, as those on the wrong side of Roman prosperity must have concluded in Jesus's time, that everything was stacked against them. These are the ones whom the world truly hates. Theirs is the kingdom.


  1. As if on cue, this came in my email today:

    "The 112th Congress presents a challenging political landscape for advocates concerned about reducing poverty. With deficit reduction dominating the conversation, several proposals have already been set forth to slash critical services helping those struggling the most in this recession."

    I also note the appalling case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, who was sent to prison for sending her children to a better school district than the one she lives in. It's pretty clear that we're determined to send a message that some people just don't matter, and that if they try to do anything about it, they become criminals. I may blogging about this again soon.

  2. Robin, when you get around to blogging about this, perhaps you can share your understanding as to why so many adults who are affected by anti-poverty legislation don't vote. Is it really because they cannot get to the polls on election day? Or is it because they don't register?

    In a representative democracy, the people are expected to use the ballot box as the ultimate mechanism to effect their interests.

  3. In many cases, it's because the voting arrangements are set up to discourage them. My mother and her husband did some election monitoring in Knoxville, and they saw multiple machines and no lines in middle class districts, but single machines with huge lines in poor districts. I've heard similar stories from other areas. Many poor people try to vote, but give up after waiting in line for hours. When they do get there, they are often told that they can't vote for trumped up reasons. We all remember, of course, that the state of Florida had kicked thousands of perfectly eliglble voters off the roles in 2000, which probably threw the election to George W. Bush.

    I don't mean to imply that there aren't lots of people just sitting home and not voting. It is a fact, though, that many try to vote and can't. As a middle class voter, I have never had such experiences, but for poor voters, they are commonplace.