Saints are people who know something profound about love, that suffering is connected with it. The saints who have shown us the way have learned that the path of sainthood is not one of accolades but accusations. Those who have gone before us were charged with demanding change because they wanted people to know more about God than others could stand to have revealed.
They challenged governments and leaders who were exploiting others. They worked to bring justice to those who were ground down by unjust systems. And in their dedicated work, they were jailed, beaten, maligned, and sometimes murdered.
The secret to sainthood is, I believe, looking at the world differently. And that means not just looking at the poor, the hungry, the suffering and seeing in them the face of Christ, although that’s a start. It also means looking at all that we have, all the comfort and safety that surrounds us, and considering what it means when we heed the words of a Teacher who has come to turn the world God-side up.
In this retelling of the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us who are blessed – and it’s always the people whom no one would consider blessed by conventional terms. With that in mind, let’s look at this again. “Blessed are you who are poor. Who are hungry. Who weep. Who are reviled.” Blessed are you, who are depressed and struggling financially and see no end in sight. You are blessed because the struggle to survive puts down sturdy, stubborn roots that allow you to prevail in harsh conditions.
Blessed are you, whose child was shot by the police, or whose child is lost in the grip of drugs, or whose child has wandered off and lost her way. Blessed are you, because in the darkness of grief and the depth of pain, there I am also, and you will feel my loving arms around you.
Blessed are you, who bite your tongue when people say unspeakable things to you, because in choosing not to fuel the flames of hatred and division, you are healing yourself and others.
Blessed are you, who march and picket and petition. Blessed are you, who remember when you suited up and marched for the right to vote or to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter downtown, and can’t believe you’re still protesting this stuff – but you lace up your shoes and pick up your sign and carry on, because when you speak for the marginalized, you speak with the voice of the Christ, and you are doing His work to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you, who have a heart for the dispossessed and weak, because you get a foretaste of God’s love for us. Blessed are you, the pure in heart, because you see that of God in every one of us, and that is so much more than most of us can do.
Blessed are you who make peace and face persecution because you know that the arc of history is long, so long, but that it bends, ultimately, toward justice. So when God blesses you, watch out, because to be blessed – which means to be set aside as holy and for sacred use – when God blesses you, watch out. Chances are, what lies ahead could be painful and maybe almost unbearable. But that pain will push down roots so strong that that they can survive unspeakable storms, and the plant that will grow will be greater than all the other plants, and it will spring forth from the earth, bearing fruit, and it will reach up toward the heavens, and toward the light.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Having turned our vision around by showing us the unlikeliest of blessings, he then balances the scales by promising woe to those of us who think things are pretty good. Why must you and I watch out? Why do we need to be pitied?
Perhaps because, even as God’s blessings are found in the unlikeliest of places, so also must we be on our guard against aspects of our lives that are, in fact, deadening our souls in God’s unfolding reign.
What if security, respectability, and comfort are dulling our senses so much that you and I are blind to the needs of those who live without those things? Maybe, just maybe, all that we count as blessings are killing our souls because they are removing us from the raw needs of others. When you and I forget what it’s like to be one paycheck away from homelessness, or to look at an empty pantry with five days to payday, we become self-satisfied, and that is deadly.
To be a saint is to understand the necessity of having a heart that is open to being wounded. To be a saint is to be willing, even compelled, to walk with those who cry out in the streets for justice. The communion of saints – that intimate unity we share through Christ with one another, including those who have finished their race – is creating a community, a new social reality, a world in which you and I care that someone else is hungry because if they are hungry, we are hungry.
Jesus is calling out the saint that dwells in each of us: to a new existence born of instinctive generosity that creates a culture sustained by the mercy of God. Blessed are those who hunger because their brother is hungry; woe to those who refuse to take the risk of solidarity. Look out! What blessedness we might miss when we fail to see that everyone around us is potentially a saint. And that includes you and me.