Blessed are the poor

So 26 října 2013

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

—Matthew 5:3

Let me tell you yet another story of my failed legal career. For those fortunate enough not to hear my story many times, I will summarize that although I am from a lawyer’s family (my father was a professor in the school of law, my older brother and his wife are judges, and there are other members of my family who are lawyers as well) and even though I graduated from two law schools, I failed to enter a legal career and I am now very, very happy as a computer programmer.

Back in a moment when I felt really down, at a time when my career was crumbling on my head, I was walking along Bartolomějská Street in Prague Old Town early one evening. I was surprised to find a mass in progress in a beautiful Baroque Catholic church. I was surprised because Bartolomějská Street is the last place most Praguers would expect anything spiritually uplifting, as this street was traditionally the headquarters of the Prague police (since at least the Austria-Hungary empire times). When people from Prague said that someone was in Bartolomějská, it meant he was being investigated. I discovered that in the middle of this street just opposite the main entry to the police headquarters was a small nunnery. In Communist times the convent was shut down (of course) and the buildings were used by the police as temporary prisons and places of interrogation and torture. After 1989, the nuns returned and they are now praying to clean this place and the surrounding area of unclean spirits. If you don’t believe spiritual warfare is something real, just ask them! So, I didn’t know it, but I entered a pretty dark place that evening. Some nuns were listening to a preacher whose sermon was based on the Biblical book of Job. This was the text:

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

And Job said:
Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
a man is conceived.
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds dwell upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.

—Job 3:1-5, ESV

My first thought was, “Oh right, that’s exactly the sermon I need to cheer me up.” But I stayed. I don’t remember now exactly what the point of that sermon was, but it was interesting enough that later that day (more in the middle of the night), I sat down and read the whole book of Job in one setting. I found to my surprise that this book was much different from what I thought it was and it actually spoke to my situation really well.

It was not the first time I read the book of Job. I had already read whole Bible, so I wasn’t surprised by the content of the book alone (well, I don’t think there are many who would not know the brief story behind the book). However, this was the first time I read the book intentionally from the position of Job. Let me explain what I mean by talking about the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ’Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ’How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ’Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ’Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

—Luke 15:11-24, ESV

It is no big surprise that generally most people study this Parable by reading it from the perspective of the younger son. This can lead us to admit we are sinners who are coming from our swine food to our Loving Father, who runs to us to meet us. After that we might think about the perspective or position of the older son, and perhaps (according to Henri Nouwen) we should strive to grow into being a loving father figure for others. I guess this initial “kneeling down” in the position of the younger son protects us against falling into self-righteousness and pride. We have to start from kneeling-down position.

So, while it seems obvious to read this parable from the position of the younger son, it is surprisingly rare for people to read Job in the same way -- that is, from the position or perspective of Job. Whenever I read some commentary on Job, it always seems written from the outside. If the author of the commentary is present in the book at all, then mostly it is as the friends talking with Job. Mostly they would like to be Elihu, the younger friend who thinks he’s leading Job to God in the end. But mostly they seem to me like the other friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who were just talking to show how smart, right, and holy they are without the true ability to help their friend.

When I was in that church listening to the reading from the book of Job, Job’s hopeless situation spoke to my situation quite clearly. The attachment to Job was so strong that when I was reading the whole book in one sitting, I was very careful not to put myself over Job, but to read from his lowly position.

This exercise taught me a lot. When we get low down to the place of Job, we know that anything we get is just a pure mercy of God to us who are not worthy of anything. When we give up on our rights, suddenly the right priorities emerge. When one finds Job’s perspective, he finds how little value is in all those things he was fond of before.

When we count all things as rubbish (Phil 3:8; literally “refuse” or “dung”) we suddenly find a new motivation for the following Christ. When we still hold on to some things of this world, we are very much limited by fear of loosing it, but when we leave everything behind, we suddenly find freedom. There is nothing we have to be afraid of loosing, because we know that God takes care of us. And then we can open to the love of God in a much more pure way, because then we can live our life ONLY for God. Not because of any profit we may get, not because of the glory we may achieve, not because of any happiness it may give us, not because of our salvation, not because of fear of Hell, but just because of God.

“Do not look on God’s hands, what you get from them; do not look on his crown, because you would be crushed by his majesty, but look into his eyes, where you find love and deepest friendship.”

So, my prayer for this day and this week is that you would be poorer and poorer in spirit and that you would experience more and more changes in your life truly done by Jesus the Christ himself.

Amen.

Category: faith Tagged: sermon sociology

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