Inviting the Light: “Got Attitude?”
By the Rev. Carole Wageman
During Epiphany, we explore some of the writings from the fifth chapter of Matthew which include the blessing sayings of the Beatitudes, part of the Sermon on the Mount. Rich material to ponder as we head toward Lent!
Sometimes these blessing sayings are thought of as a kind of moral compass, but perhaps they are really enlarging our attitude about “blessedness”.
So, today’s question is: What is your attitude? “What!” you say! “You mean, I need to get an attitude, like defiant or lofty?” Well, no, that’s not quite what I had in mind. I’m talking about the kind of personal perspective that helps a person stay positively oriented while dealing with everyday circumstances that can sometimes be quite demanding.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is to describe what is meant by “attitude” when you fly a plane. There are three spatial dimensions you need to be concerned with so you don’t inconveniently crash and burn: Leaning right or left (Rolling). Angling up or down (Pitching). Swiveling from side to side (Yawing). Managing all three dimensions at the same time impacts where you are going and how effectively you get there. It is an equilibrium that tells you where you are in space during any given time while suspended in the air.
Well, our attitude in life is much the same. It is the balance and alignment to a perspective bigger than our own narrow vision that orients us to how we will muddle through troubling times without crashing and burning. For many Christians, we tend to seek that balance in Jesus’s teachings…some of which are expressed in the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew!
While we tend to take these very famous sayings of Jesus and directly apply them to our own lives, I have to share a secret with you: Jesus wasn’t directly talking to any of us in this day. He was addressing significant spiritual and justice issues being dealt with by the Jewish people of his day. Now, before anyone reports me to the heresy police, let me explain. Jesus’ ministry and teachings were based in a much wider context than we usually think about. We read into Jesus’s teachings for ourselves in the 21st century, (and there is certainly much for us to pay attention to), but Jesus was actually challenging the Israel of his day. It is important to remember he was calling Israel, to BE Israel—to be the light of the world—to be leaven in the loaf—to be the ingredient, like salt, which does not stand out as the most important ingredient, but which improves everything it touches if used appropriately so they might live into the calling that God had intended for them all along. God’s purpose for the world was to be fulfilled through those called “The Chosen People” but not while they were stubbornly following their own ways and conforming to the whims of a world that took them so far away from God’s intent. This might have been hard for the listeners of that day to hear. It certainly is not a far leap to find Jesus’s words addressing us in our day.
So, what if we have a little fun with what I call a “modern midrash” in order to explore these blessing sayings (the Beatitudes) and see if we can glean some deeper meaning that truly is Jesus’ message for us today.
Matthew says that Jesus’ reputation has brought great crowds around him for healing (Matthew 4:23-5:16). He says they have come from “…Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” Matthew continues: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught the disciples…” saying words to the effect:
Look around you—what do you see? You see crowds of people, sure…you see the outside of them but do you see into their hearts? If you are going to be engaging with people as I described to you, you need to see more deeply into them than what presents itself on the surface. Because deep in the pain of the world is where God’s blessing is to be found. So all those faces out there who are coming to me—and you—for hope, for healing, for justice—they are blessed simply because they are seeking the heart of God.
Look out there among the people. Do you see those who are discouraged and depressed and hanging on by a thread? They might be poor in spirit and might have given up, but I tell you, God has not given up on them. God loves them so much that theirs is…how shall I put it…the kingdom of heaven!
There are some out there who have experienced terrible loss for which there seems to be no comfort right now. They mourn now but God knows their sorrow and will comfort them. Their loss will not disappear but their pain will be held and healed in God’s own hands.
Then there are those you can sort of see at the back of the crowd—the timid ones who are shy about coming closer, but notice how they stick with it. God is calling to them through their meekness. They might not have words for it, but they are drawn to God’s mystery. Their meekness is blessed for their intuition and insight will lead them to inherit the earth.
And can you see the rebels among them? Those whose hunger for truth, justice, integrity, fairness and honesty is like a thirst that won’t easily be quenched. Ah, their needs will be filled for they are the ones who are blessed by persistence and who won’t give up until justice and righteousness is achieved.
And then there are the pure in heart—the innocents, of which children are the best example. They just love God. Because of their inborn goodness, nothing gets in their way of seeing the Divinity among us. They, of all people, already see God.
Now look a little further. You can see those to whom others turn when they need help. They have a gift of reconciliation and making peace. Their blessedness makes me call them children of God for God is all about reconciliation and peace making. That is their blessing.
Likewise, the merciful will, in turn, receive mercy. The goodness people give is the goodness they will receive. Those who have stood up for rightness and made enemies along the way because they spoke truth to power and did not fit into the status quo…well, prophets who came a long time before us were not very welcome either.
So, you see—what I am trying to tell those of you who are choosing to follow me is that what I am teaching changes the way you see the world. Where you see conflict, there is justice struggling to surface. Where you see sorrow, there is God’s hand at work comforting. Where you see humility and meekness, there is a craving for connection to God. Where you see innocence, there the mystery of God is present. God is all around us and in us, behind us and before us.
These are God’s people and these are the ones I am teaching you to find so that they might all be brought into the fullness of God’s love. Don’t be fooled by what you see on the surface. There is a story and a blessedness in each one if you look at them with new eyes.
You are blessed and You are the blessing. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You carry God into the world through who you are as well as what you do.
Now, I know I have taken liberties with Matthew’s language in this midrash of my own, but Jesus’ words are alive and present among us right now. What we see on the surface of a person is not the same thing as resides in their hearts. Do we miss seeing the need around us because our eyes are stretched too far heavenward or our knees too humbly hugging the ground? Does God’s call to be a light to the world fall short because we don’t see the ways in which God’s light is already at work in the darkness?
God doesn’t need those who suffer from a subtle (or not-so-subtle) sense of superiority. God needs enlightened servants who seek compassionate justice: those who recognize that there is not much distance between any of us. We all mourn. We all have need of mercy. We all are poor of spirit. We all hunger and thirst for meaning. In a very real way, we are the crowds that gathered around Jesus and at the same time, we are the disciples learning to see the world with new eyes.
We are the blessing that blesses the lives of others and that takes a certain kind of …attitude.
 A “midrash” is a literary technique usually related to Jewish rabbinic commentaries on Hebrew texts. It doesn’t seek to change the texts, but it does delve into them more deeply. I call a “modern midrash” as something that brings the substance of the message into more contemporary exploration of the texts.
Copyright © 2017 Carole A. Wageman. All rights reserved.
NOTE: Similar stories from Scripture are explored more fully in my upcoming book: “The Light Shines Through: Our Stories Are God’s Story” coming out in early March 2017. More information plus pre-ordering available now at http://www.churchpublishing.org/lightshinesthrough