(But We May Be Wrong)
Much is demanded from a person living in this time. Beyond our own troubles and struggles—beyond the timeless cycles of life and death—we are compelled to give our depleted attention and emotions to situations far away, to voices we would rather not hear, to choices that are numbing in their number yet vague in promise.
We are shown strangers on our screens and told by unreliable voices what the strangers represent. And if we strive to live lives of honor and dignity, we are disappointed when our choices do not result in honor and dignity, and aghast when evil is embraced by so much of our wounded community. And, as always when a society is afraid and adrift, we suffer the cruelties and indignities that flower from the bad seeds scattered in the filth and resentment of a time without honor.
It is a time not unlike the Roman Empire of the First Century, where lands and cultures once free had come under the control of a brutal and militant power often ruled by psychopaths and rarely inspired by anything beyond calculated self-interest. The mountainous northernmost province of Rome’s client state of Judea, Galilee, was far from the palace intrigues of Jerusalem and farther still from the imperial capital. Yet there was no escaping the news of the day, the horrors of the executioners, the imposition of the thugs.
The oldest pieces of the gospel are found in Matthew and Luke, the most important of which come from an older “sayings gospel” and also found in the Gospel of Thomas—the latter ancient text discovered in earthenware jars in the cliffs of Upper Egypt in 1945. A time of absolute terror for our world. A time that felt like the end of the world.
Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you.
Congratulations, you hungry! You will feast.
Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh.
Like Jonathan Swift or Alanis Morissette or the holy fool Nasruddin, these oldest quotes attributed to Jesus contain irony and humor, but in the service of mercy. In the service of comfort. You who suffer now will have peace.
Pope Francis, in his book Happiness In This Life, encourages us to memorize the Beatitudes and use them as a daily prayer. He writes, “Let us try to remember them and imprint them upon hearts”:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Just how that satisfaction will be delivered is the great mystery. Karma is rarely instant but sometimes it can come so quickly that all are amazed. And sometimes we must be creative to see favorable results. All of our lives are narratives, and how we shape those narratives can be more important than what objectively happened.
Or, as Leonard Cohen wrote: “There’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong.”
Until next time, may your thirst for righteousness be tempered by patience and compassion.