Luke, the well-known doctor and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul during the 1st century, writes this excerpt in the sixth chapter of his Gospel record. He tells how Jesus went down and stood on a level place after being high on a mountainside. A great number of people from everywhere gathered around Him. Luke notes how power was emanating from Jesus. Thus, people were trying to touch Him. Looking then at his disciples, Jesus says -
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours in the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy because great is your reward in heaven…”
(Luke 6: 17 – 23a)
We arrived at Oasis Parish at about 10am Sunday morning. After greeting some church members inside, I joined the pastor and a few elders outside as we welcomed worshipers into the small, dilapidated excuse for a school building. And then he came. I noticed that his right arm was completely inert. Either he was born that way or had some accident leaving him crippled. I felt a blend of compassion and mild pity as he walked by. Yet no shame darkened his countenance. Worship that morning was exuberant and joy-filled at this small parish on the outskirts of Kananga. The young men’s choir began singing a lively worship song in Swahili. Then I noticed him again. Perhaps everyone in attendance noticed him now. While everyone was sitting, he stood and began dancing will all of his might, perhaps a picture of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. A young girl sitting next to him looked embarrassed. He took no notice. He was oblivious to all. His unadulterated focus was worshipping his King and Creator. The pastor hadn’t even opened his mouth to preach a sermon, yet this crippled man’s display of joy was sermon enough for me this day.
Many of us Evangelical Christians from the West have the idea that the “beatitudes” (Luke’s account above) are a benchmark to strive towards. At least, I will confess this view for most of my Christian life. Yet, what I have learned as a result of reading Kingdom Ethics by David Gushee and Glen Stassen, and was reminded of on this day, is that the ‘beatitudes’ are by no means something to strive towards, rather they are an eschatological reality of how God treats those who suffer under the weight of poverty and injustice in this world. Jesus’ words describe what some theologians dub “the reversal of fortunes.” God’s Kingdom is an upside down Kingdom; it is completely antithetical to the mind-set of this world.
To demonstrate this reality, we have Exhibit A, the man with the crippled arm at Oasis Parish (I later learned his name – Tatu Famille). Tatu Famille lives in a country that has the second lowest GDP on earth - the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lives in a culture where physical strength is needed for daily survival. He lives in a culture where the right hand is symbolically superior. By the standards of this world, his life amounts to zero. Yet, he shows no marks of shame. His face betrays a peace and a joy that CEOs and Wall Street financiers could only dream of. He is poor, yes. He probably weeps at times, yes. He is probably hungry on a regular basis, yes. I am sure he has been excluded, marginalized and rejected, yes. Yet his life points to the eschatological reality of God’s reign breaking into this world. In Jesus’ words, Tatu Famille is blessed. To Tatu Famille belongs the Kingdom of God. He will be satisfied. He will laugh. He is blessed and will be blessed as Jesus ushers forth His coming Kingdom! Thus, he is able to rejoice and leap for joy! When the prophet Malachi describes the final day of God’s vindication, he portrays those who revere God’s Name as those going out and leaping like calves from their stalls (Mal. 4: 2). Perhaps Jesus alludes to Malachi’s prophetic words in his assessment of how the poor of the world will respond at Jesus’ final vindication and consummation of all things. Tatu Famille has already begun leaping. He knows the grace and the goodness of God! I am no longer a betting man, but I would wager my entire earthly sum that Tatu Famille will also be leaping for joy in eternity, in the presence of our Almighty, Awesome, Powerful and Loving God. Lord, thank you for such a wonderful sermon!