Blessed... No Matter What

The Beatitudes of Jesus are not so much a set of instruction or a list of attitudes, but a promise that God is available to us...no matter what.

Full Text: 

Matthew 5:1-12

I am in the midst of reading a very good book. It’s called,Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle. Father Boyle has worked for over 20 years with gangs in Los Angeles . The ministries he has founded help young men and women move out of gang life. But it can be a long and tough trip. Let me read to you how Father Boyle’s ministry might start out:

On occasion, I will do an intake on a homie who comes into our office looking for one of our services: tattoo removal, job placement, counseling, etc. If I had a dollar for every time the following happens, I could close down my development office.

I have the intake form, and I’m interviewing the homie seated in front of me. “How old are you?”

And the homie says, “Me?”

And I’m thinking,No, what’s your dog’s age? We are the only ones in the room, and he says, “Me?”

“Well, yes, you.”

“Oh, I’m eighteen.”

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Me?”

(Again, I think,No, I was wondering if your grandmother is still driving.)

“Yes, you.”

“No, I don’t have a license.”

The toxicity gets so internalized that it obliterates the “me.” You couldn’t possibly have interest in knowing things about “me.” Sure you’re not talking about somebody else – who happens not to be in the room?

All throughout Scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can’t pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers.

AsJesus scholar Marcus Borg pointsout, the principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame – a global sense of the failure of the whole self. This shame can seep so deep down. I asked a homie once, after Mass at a probation camp, if he had any brothers and sisters.

“Yeah,” he says, “I have one brother and one sister,” and then he’s quick to add, with emphasis, “but THEY’RE GOOD.”

“Oh,” I tell him, “and that would make YOU…?”

“Here,” he says, “locked up.”

“And THAT would make you…?” I try again.

“Bad,” he says.

Homies live in the zip code of the eternally disappointing, and need a change of address. To this end, one hopes (against all human inclination) to model not the “one false move” God but the “no matter whatness” of God.(p. 51-52)

That, I believe, is what Jesus is proclaiming to us in theBeatitudes– not the “one false move” God, but rather the “no matter whatness” of God, the God that “no matter what” is present and available to us.

For Jesus began his ministry, not with all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, but in a place of darkness. He initiated his ministry in a kingdom that wasn’t a kingdom, because the people who lived there had no power. He started where the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali dwelled.

These people were not only politically powerless. They lived as far fromJerusalemas you could get and still be in the historicalland of Israel. They were run rough-shod over by power after power. There was no chance that an army from Jerusalem – or even from Samaria, the northern capitol – would come to protect them.

Not only this, they were spiritually powerless. According to the official religion ofIsrael, the only lawful place to worship and to offer sacrifice was the temple in Jerusalem. They could not go to the local temple or the local shrine or the local altar. The only place they could offer legitimate worship, worship that the God of official religion would receive, was Jerusalem, more than a hundred miles away. (If you had to walk 100 miles to church, how often would you go?)

Even if they could make it that far, they were poor. They could not buy a calf for sacrifice. They could not buy a pigeon for sacrifice. They might not even be able to buy a sack if grain for sacrifice – the poorest of offerings. They are spiritually poor, not merely in some ephemeral, but in a very down to earth sense. They cannot make the sacrifice required by law to atone for their sins. And if you can’t atone for your sins, then you can get nowhere near God.

Yet, to their surprise, and to everyone else’s surprise, Jesus says differently. Jesus proclaims, “The kingdom of heaven is theirs.” God is available to them. God is there for them.

In his book,The Divine Conspiracy,Dallas Willardputs it this way, “This fact of God’s care and provision proves to all that no human condition excludes blessedness, that God may come to any person with his care and deliverance…The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That’s the gospel of the Beatitudes.” (p. 116)

The Beatitudes are not primarily a set of instructions to follow. They are not primarily a list of attitudes to cultivate. They are a promise that God is available to you. For no matter who you are or what your situation, no matter how far from God you feel, no matter how desperate your life, the kingdom of heaven is available to you. Even when you are sick, troubled, powerless, vulnerable, God is still present for you. There is no situation, there is no condition in which God is not there to you.

This is the “no matter whatness” of God. It is the good news of the Beatitudes. It is the promise of Jesus. It is the blessing of God. And that blessing is what we all most deeply need.

Let me read a bit more fromTattoos on the Heart:

Often after Mass at the camps, kids will line up to talk one-on-one. The volunteers sometimes invite the minors to confession, but usually the kids just want to talk, be heard, get a blessing. At Camp Afflerbaugh , I’m seated on a bench outside in a baseball field, and one by one, the homies come over to talk briefly. This day, there’s quite a lineup. The next kid approaching, I can tell is all swagger and pose. His walk ischigonin its highest gear. His head bobs, side-to-side, to make sure all eyes are riveted. He sits down, we shake hands, but he seems unable to shake the scowl etched across his face.

“What’s your name?” I ask him.

“SNIPER,” he sneers.

“Okay, look (I had been down this block before), I have a feeling you didn’t pop outta your mom and she took one look at your ass and said, “Sniper.” So, come on, dog, what’s your name?”

“Gonzalez,” he relents a little.’

“Okay now, son, I know the staff here will call you by your last name. I’m not down with that. Tell me,mijo, what’s your mom call you?”

“Cabrón.”

There is even the slightest flicker of innocence in his answer.

Oy, no cabe duda. But, son, I’m looking for birth certificate here.”

The kid softens. I can tell it’s happening. But there is embarrassment and a newfound vulnerability.

Napoleón,”he manages to squeak out, pronouncing it in Spanish.

“Wow,” I say, “That’s a fine, noble, historic name. But I’m almost positive that when yourjefitacalls you, she doesn’t use the whole nineyardas. Come on,mijito,do you have anapodo? What’s your mom call you?”

Then I watch him go to some far, distant place – a location he has not visited in some time. His voice, body language, and whole being are taking on a new shape –right before my eyes.

“Sometimes,” – his voice so quiet, I lean in – “sometimes…when my mom’s not mad at me…she calls me…Napito.”

I watched this kid move, transformed, from Sniper to Gonzalez to Cabrón to Napoleón to Napito. We all just want to be called by the name our mom uses when she’s not pissed off at us.(p. 53-54)

That’s how we want to be called by our moms. That’s how we want to be called by our dads. That’s how we also want to be called by God. We want to be intimate with God. We want to be known by God, when God is not pissed off at us – not the “one false move” God, but the “no matter what” God. Not the God who will blow his stack if we take the slightest misstep, but the God who is with us no matter what. That’s what we want. And that’s what Jesus gives us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those whohunger and thirstfor righteousness, blessed are thepure in heart, blessed are those who seek peace…because, no matter what, God is there for them. No matter what, God is there for you.