The wisdom of God, especially as lived and taught by Jesus, is foolishness - read absurd, confounding, obtuse, contradictory, perverse - by the conventional wisdom of this world. (Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12; Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)
In reality the Hebrew bible has always had two opposing strands of wisdom. On the one hand there is the tradition as expressed in the Proverbs where God’s wisdom states that blessings are tangible things like long years, lots of healthy children and livestock, a land to call your own, and the good opinion of your neighbours. And on the other hand there is that other wisdom tradition that says God’s favoured ones can and will suffer as did Job through no fault of their own. These views might be considered opposing as in the same way one’s thumb and forefinger oppose one another as they grasp an object.
The teaching of Jesus references this other wisdom tradition and amplifies it taking it to its illogical, upside down, inside out, bottom up conclusion in the beatitudes and his other teachings which often leave us mystified and confounded.
The beatitudes are dearly loved by many of us. They speak of comfort and the reassurance that even in dark places and dark times we are not only remembered by God but in some unfathomable way especially graced and at the heart of God’s kingdom. But as is so often the case with us humans it is what brings comfort that also brings a measure of discomfort. For it is one thing to be reassured that in hard times God is with us in our grief and poverty, it is another thing altogether to have it said that such states of poverty and grief are somehow blessed and desirable.
The beatitudes confound us in so many ways because they are a call to a new and radical way of being human – both in our way of being community and of being our particular selves. The beatitudes call us into a new and radical world order: an upside down, inside out way of being society – a kingdom way of being and doing, of thinking and seeing.
I suspect that followers of Christ have always struggled to understand and live the way the beatitudes point us in the direction of. And I think that ever since the Christian faith has been the religion of the state (in the west) it has been a mixed blessing. Obviously there are many good things about living in a Christian nation, and I know many people worry that is becoming less and less the case. However there have been many problems associated with the state of Christendom. Wherever we have secular power and religious justification coming together it is a recipe for abuse and self deception. Too often we assume that good citizenship is the same as being Christian and vice versa. I think that the beatitudes remind us that they are not synonymous. That we are called into a higher and harder order of living. And in some ways simpler yet more demanding standard of being.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The people of God have known for ever and a day what is required of us and yet we have ever struggled to do and be as we are called to be.
In a very real sense I think the beatitudes take us into the middle of the terrain from which justice and loving kindness and faithfulness can and must emerge. For it is when our spirits are broken and poor that we are so desperate that we allow the kingdom to set up reign in our hearts; it when we mourn that we are open to the comfort of God; it is when we are truly meek and humble that there is room in us for the gift of the earth; it is when we long for righteousness as we do for food and drink that we can be filled with the very thing we long for; it is when we can show mercy that we can receive it; and it is when we are prepared to make peace with all our brothers and sisters that we truly become children, fellow heirs of Christ, with all others.
Maybe a truly righteous person could act with justice, loving kindness and faithfulness in the midst of a happy self contained life but most of us don’t grow into that larger awareness and more desperate dependence on God until we have known great suffering, great love and the great faithful love of God toward us. Most of us don’t grow spiritually until we have to. Maybe like the frog or fish eggs that lies dormant in the dried out mud until the rains come, or the seed that lies dormant in the soil until the fires come over them, maybe we aren’t ready until we are broken open by poverty, mourning and meekness.
If so, indeed what foolishness this Christian business is. This is not worthy of signs nor is it wisdom as we have come to think of it. But God’s wisdom responds to the brokenness of the human condition by becoming fully human himself – by pouring all her compassion, all his presence, into one particular life. God’s wisdom offers the suffering of the cross as the way through and beyond the suffering of life. God’s wisdom comes first to the ordinary broken ones not the righteous religious ones.
And if we need any further evidence that the wisdom of God is foolishness to us, then what is this business about being blessed when we are persecuted and reviled? Now of course there are still places in the world for which Christians are persecuted. And of course there are places where if not persecuted then one is made fun of and derided for believing. But is that all that is meant? I think not. We have spoken several times since Epiphany about the tendency of the darkness to resist the coming of the light. And so when we live lives informed by the light of Christ we too will receive some backlash. It may come in the form of ridicule or avoidance by others. It may come in the form of ethical dilemma and difficult choice and internal wrestling. Sometimes the resistance to the light will be in the outside world by others and sometimes the resistance to the light is internal and the battle is within one’s own self.
Instead of being dismayed and afraid we should rejoice and be glad for it is evidence that we are alive. Indeed alive enough with the light to stir up some resistance. So what is the injustice in your world, your family, your workplace, your heart that cries out for your attention? What is the kindness that is waiting to be called forth from you in response to the world in which you live? And in what ways might you walker closer and more simply with God?
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ and be our foolish companion in this life.