Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 6 February 2011)

Blessed are…the salt of the earth

Reading
Matthew 5.13-20

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In my early years, growing up in the north of England, I was conscious of something about myself that my kids have never had to think about.

I was part of the working class.

Above me were the middle class and above them there were people in the upper class. Below us were the unemployed and the homeless, but our family was near the bottom. That was where we fitted; as working class people, we didn’t count as much as middle class people.

Once upon a time, working class people were meant to stay working class. My dad did have aspirations to get us into the middle class; and we lived at a time in which kids like me, kids with the ability to pass exams, were at a great advantage because we were given a grammar school education.

If I were living in England now, I would have made it all the way up to the middle class by now.

We talk about the ‘middle class’ in Australia, but ‘working class’ is a phrase you don’t hear too often. Don’t be fooled; it still exists! We do talk about people who live in ‘low socio-economic areas’. That’s a whole mouthful of intelligent-sounding words. It sounds kinder than ‘working class’. Possibly it is—it feels that it should be easier to escape a ‘low socio-economic area’ than it would be to get out of the ‘working class’. But really, I have my doubts about that. People who are on the bottom tend to get ‘stuck’. They tend not to be noticed as much as the people who make ‘the news’.

In the first century, they didn’t talk about the working class, or about people living in low socio-economic areas. They spoke of ‘the poor’.

The Greek word Matthew uses for ‘poor’ is ptochos. The ptochoi were the lowest of the low. Much lower than English working class people. They were expendable (Rohr). They didn’t count. Jesus says, ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. It’s here and it’s now, because they get it.

So when Jesus says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

it comes as a shock.

You see, the poor were meant to stay on the bottom of the pile. Possibly, the nearest thing we know about are the dalits, the ‘untouchables’, of Indian society. They are the lowest group in society’s hierarchy, and they are meant to stay there.

But Jesus says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Are the ‘poor in spirit’ materially poor? Are they ‘poor in things’, or can they be rich? We are certainly not ‘poor’ in the literal sense meant here; none of us is on the bottom of the pile. Can we be ‘poor in spirit’?

Short answer: it may be overstating things to say that the poor in spirit can’t have wealth. But we can say this: the poor in spirit don’t have wealth as their goal in life. The poor in spirit know their need of God. They know their possessions won’t do. They know whatever wealth they have isn’t going to commend them to God.

There’s one more thing they know: God has everything they need. And they want to share this abundance of God with others, because they know that God will still have more than enough for them no matter how much they give away.

The people of the Beatitudes are the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And Jesus says they are the salt of the earth.

We know what we mean when we say that man or that woman is ‘the salt of the earth’—they’d do anything to help. They’re fully dependable. They’d never let you down. They’ll gently speak the truth. They’re the kind of person you want for a neighbour. Maybe they’re even the kind of neighbour you’d like to be.

We’d be pleased to be called ‘the salt of the earth’.

But Jesus says that it’s Beatitudes people who are the salt of the earth. Including the poor in spirit, the people whose spirits are so poverty-stricken that they could be called the destitute in spirit.

Do we want to be poor in spirit? As a student minister, I once led a meditation at a family camp suggesting that poverty of spirit was something we might want. The minister didn’t agree with me. He seemed to want people to be rich in spirit.

Is that so wrong?

Isn’t that what we aspire to? To have spiritual gifts, to be able to offer something useful to God? To be ‘effective’ Christians?

All this reminds me of a song we used to sing a long time ago. I’ve lost the music, and I can’t find it anywhere. These are the words:

Empty, empty, I come empty,
to the bleeding Lord.
Empty, empty, hands before me,
fill them living Word.
In the mystery of the water,
mystery of the bread and wine,
bind me, bind me, fast and firmly,
to the Crucified.

These are words best sung and best lived by the poor in spirit.

The poor in spirit know they have nothing to offer but empty hands. They offer their empty hands to a Lord who bears the scars of the cross on his hands, but who holds all things in them. They are washed clean, and fed with word and sacrament. They are the salt of the earth.

The poor in spirit know that when their hands are full, it is because the risen and crucified Lord has filled them. The only things they have worth giving to others are what the Lord has given to them.

The poor in spirit know what it means to feel discouraged and disheartened. So they look to the Lord of life.

They know what it is to feel anxious and anguished. So they look to the Lord of peace.

They know what it is to feel depressed and downhearted. So they look to the Lord of grace.

The poor in spirit can be out of their comfort zone, yet know that God is there with them. The Christ who was rejected receives them.

The kingdom is for the poor in spirit now. It’s not coming later for them. They live in it now, because they must stay close to their Lord.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they ‘get it’.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are the salt of the earth.

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1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

One response to “Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 6 February 2011)

  1. Cool

    I wish i was in your church as i know it sinks better when said. Keep the spirit up, the sermon is so sweet, thanks one more. Be blessed by; 1 peter 2:19a.

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