He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)
I opened my email and skimmed the email: Would you like to write on your favorite beatitude? Without a second thought, I replied: Absolutely…My favorites are blessed are the poor and blessed are those who mourn.
Days later, I receive the prompt: Write on your favorite beatitude…from the Gospel of Luke.
I hesitate: “The Gospel of Luke?” I thought. “Wait. I was thinking about the Gospel of Matthew.” I’m humbled by the quickness and surety with which I read the invitation. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve misread directions either. Slow down, I thought. Pay attention.
It’s not that I don’t like Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon, but there’s a tangibility and frankness in Luke’s interpretation (Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) that is less obvious in Matthew’s (Blessed are the poor in spirit). Matthew’s Gospel is what I want to hear right now. The season of Lent has laid bare a yearning for God that busyness can’t satisfy. Joy is in short supply, reminding me of the danger we all have in interpreting Scripture through our circumstances alone.
Luke, however, makes it very clear throughout his entire Gospel: Jesus is on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, and the forgotten.
Blessed are you deemed unworthy.
Blessed are you whose offerings are judged as inferior.
Blessed are you who’ve been excluded for what they have or don’t have, who they are or are not.
You are entitled to all the riches of God’s kingdom.
What you have does not matter. You belong here.
The truth of the matter is, far too often I’m culpable of trying to control the boundaries of God’s kingdom, of who’s in and out. Who’s got enough and who should try again. The irony is not lost on me. As a black woman I have stood on the outside looking or tried to explain the importance of my belonging: from graduate school to church to the jewelry counter in suburbs. I have bemoaned and protested against the fear of the other that has become the de facto lens through which policies are being made. Borders aren’t only at rivers and self-preservation is not limited to just a few. Blessed are the poor for theirs in the kingdom.
This Easter season let’s embody Mary Oliver’s wise instructions for living life: Slow down. Pay attention. Be astonished. God’s kingdom knows no bounds.
This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.