When things get to the point where I can’t deal with them any longer, I walk. The other day, I’d had enough of the misery around me, so I bundled up and headed out into the cold world. I didn’t expect the wintry scenery to make me feel any better. I was looking for something else -actually, someone else- to do the job. I looked beyond the school, the village hall and the homes that line my neighborhood. I peeked past earth-colored bricks, charcoal tree trunks, the white clouds and blue sky to catch a glimpse of what I needed. I squinted and strained to find God. I fully intended to insist that our dear Lord do something about the many suffering people whom I felt incapable of helping in a meaningful way.
Before checking to see if I had God’s attention, I began to list everyone who’d asked me to pray for him or her and everyone who I thought needed Divine Intervention of some sort. As I recited that list, I couldn’t help picturing each one. Before going on to the next name, I had to add how frightened or distraught or alone the person I’d mentioned must be feeling. In the process, my frustration over my inability to fix everything and everyone on my list gave way. Rather than angrily bounding through the cold, I continued on with absolute certainty that God knows about and cares very deeply for each of these suffering souls. When I came home to begin this writing, it occurred to me that I should have read Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a) before my walk…
Matthew tells us that Jesus took the suffering of his contemporaries to heart. When Jesus climbed the mountainside to speak, he saw each face in the crowd before him. Anxious eyes revealed every sort of suffering –poverty of body and spirit; illness and loss; insecurity and loneliness; hunger and thirst; persecution, unrest and injustice. Jesus knew he needed to do much more than to fulfill the material longings of the people. A bit of food, a warmer coat, a better home and an illness overcome were temporary remedies for what ailed the throngs before him. Jesus looked deeply into the tormented hearts who struggled to make sense of their lives. Jesus searched his own heart for the only answer which would make sense of everything.
Jesus looked into that suffering crowd and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
When we find ourselves in the midst of serious suffering, we can be taken aback by this talk of “blessedness”. We’re tempted to look up that mountainside into Jesus’ eyes and to demand, “What are you thinking, Lord? My pain is unbearable. My wife is leaving me. I drink too much. We can’t have a baby. I’ve lost my job. Our teenager is drifting away. They’ve told me it’s cancer. I can’t stop gambling. I’m so depressed that it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I’m dying. I’m alone. Lord, what are you thinking?” What a shock it is when Jesus looks deep into our eyes and repeats, “Blessed are you!”
I’ve come to realize that no one knows the pain we suffer better than God. No one knows that the things of this world can’t fix or replace what really matters to us better than God. When our lives go awry and our loved ones or we ourselves are at stake, we grapple for a lasting solution. God knows our struggle better than we do. Whether we need to put our hearts at peace, to find strength for the battles ahead, to accept a change that will be with us for the rest of our lives or to work tirelessly for a better change, God is with us. This is what being blessed is all about. Perhaps it’s time to add a few more beatitudes to Jesus’ list: Blessed are we when we face overwhelming obstacles and struggle through them… Blessed are we when we muster the last bit of life within us to embrace what lies ahead… Blessed are we when we realize the imperfections of this life and we plug along anyway. God is with us all the while. So, yes, blessed are we!
©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved