"I deserve to weep."
My father and I were standing in a parking lot on a Thursday afternoon, after a funeral. The previous Monday, I'd received a phone call from the pastor of the church where my father had served for over twenty years, the church where I grew up. She had thoughtfully called to let us know about the death of one the members of that congregation. Calling him a "member" was an understatement. "Pillar" would be a more appropriate description. You know, the kind of person you always think will be there, whose fingerprints are on every square inch of that building and that ministry.
I thought to myself that this would be a perfect opportunity. Ever since we moved my mother into an Alzheimer's care unit, my dad had been going to visit her once, twice, even three times a day. He really hadn't "transitioned" yet. He had not taken a chance to get away, to break out of the daily routine of caring for my mom that had become the center of his life, to find a "new normal." I thought that this might be opportunity to help him make that transition.
I called him up and I said, "Dad, if you want to go to this funeral, I'll go with you." I told him that I thought it would be good for him. He agreed. And so, we met at church on Thursday morning, the day of the funeral.
The experience was everything that I hoped that it would be. The service was a wonderful, tender tribute to this faithful servant of the Gospel, this saint of the Church. There was sadness, of course, but also a beautiful celebration of his life.
I lost count of the old friends who came up to my father, saying how good it was to see him and how much it meant that he had come back for this tribute. The highlight was the reception following the funeral when the current pastor came up and sat down for half an hour to talk to my dad and regale him with stories and memories that people had shared with her of his ministry. She told him how fondly he was still remembered. And, you know, if I'm going to be perfectly honest, a lot of people came up to me, too, to point out what a good son I was, bringing my father to this service.
I felt I was trying to be attentive to his needs, but I may have overdone it. When we got back to the parking lot, preparing to go our separate ways, he turned to me and said, "You don't have to worry so much about me. I know that I'm going every day to the care center. I know this is becoming my routine, but it's okay. I've been married to your mother for sixty years. This terrible disease has taken her away from me. Of course, I'm sad. Give me time. I deserve to weep."
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." I want to talk to Jesus and say, "That sounds great, but when? When will my father laugh again?"
Jesus' "Sermon on the Plain" begins the same way the Gospel of Luke as a whole begins, by painting a picture of a world turned upside down. At the start of his ministry, when he read from Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, Jesus promised that the poor would receive good news, the captives would be released, and that the blind would see. The crowd turned pretty ugly that day. But here on the plain, this is a different day and a different crowd. The great multitude gathered around him are exactly the kind of people Jesus came to proclaim favored by God. And here is Jesus, not high on some mountain talking down to them, as he does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, but he is right there among them and in the midst of them.
As a matter of fact, he might even be below them. The one detail in this passage that has always intrigued me is that even as he is busy healing the crowd's diseases, Jesus literally has to "look up" to see his disciples before he can teach them. Are they somehow above him? Have they removed themselves from the seething mass of suffering? Is this why Jesus has to make sure that they really take notice of these poor, sad, discarded folk? "Don't you realize these are the blessed of God," he seems to say, "This is where we should focus our attention because it is these people who have God's attention. God sees them even when no one else does."
To be blessed, after all, is to know that you have God's attention. To know that whenever you go, you will not be alone. To be blessed is to know that you are valued and important simply because God has made you priceless. And suddenly the separation between the disciples and the crowd is removed. Everyone is connected because the only possession anyone really has is the blessing of God. I forgot that on the day in the parking lot with my father. I am in such a hurry to see him happy again that I want to rush past the weeping and get to the laughing part. Instead of trying to "fix" my dad, it would have been more healing for both of us if I had just started weeping with him. I forgot that even while you are still weeping and mourning, you can be blessed.
Now let's be clear. In Luke, Jesus is blessing the real poor, hungry, grief-stricken, and outcasts of this world, not the "poor in spirit" as in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus promises a world turned upside down, from the poor lifted up and the mighty cast down in the Magnificat, to the captives released in the sermon from Isaiah, to the reviled who are blessed in the beatitudes. These are the people God notices and blesses. These are the people Jesus came to release.
In Luke, Jesus is also clear that wealth and privilege are real dangers that have the power to separate one from God and from the human community. Jesus spells out the "woes" of which the comfortable and wealthy better beware. The kingdom of God belongs to those who have nothing except God. There seems to be two categories here, distinct and separate, and it's natural to ask, "Which group am I a part of?"
Well, I know I fall into the category of people the "woe-itudes" are addressing. I am like the disciples, somehow removed from the people Jesus is caring for. These warnings challenge me to care more about the people God cares about. But how do I bridge the gap?
Then I hear my father say, "I deserve to weep."
Maybe if we spent less time celebrating our victories and priding ourselves on our position, we might know more of God's blessing. Maybe if we were more honest about our own brokenness, we would know how close we are to one another and how much we need one another.
After all, we are all broken. Some of us have lost health or lost relationships or lost jobs. Our brokenness is personal, it's unique, it's truly ours, it's no one else's. And yet it connects us with one another because we are all broken in some way. But when Jesus says blessed are those who weep, he's pointing out that this sadness is also a sign of something deeper, that all of us mourn because the world is so far from God's purposes. Instead of separating us into some kind of imaginary hierarchy of need, we are brought closer in our shared weeping over this world.
We look around, we see injustice, we see exploitation, we see violence, and the faithful cannot help but mourn. I think that includes all of us, no matter who we voted for, no matter our economic status, our sexual orientation, or our ethnic background, we are all mourning. We hear of borders closed and walls being built and we know, we know this is not how God works. We hear of Hispanic and Islamic brothers and sisters living in fear, and we mourn. We listen to vitriolic words coming to us from all sides, and we wonder where is our comfort to come from?
Well, here's the good news. Blessed are those who weep. God hears you. God knows you. God comes close to you. And God will not let you go. We all deserve to weep, but we are all blessed. We are not alone. How would we look at our neighbors if we saw them as both broken and blessed? Would we see our brother or sister more than a nuisance, not a threat? Would we hear Jesus say, "Come, you are blessed. Join me here on the plain."
There's a wonderful little video that I came across years ago that I keep thinking about. It begins with a businessman going about his usual day, except the day isn't going very well. It seems as each minute passes, the day gets worse and his frustration level rises. He starts to pull out of the driveway, and almost runs over a child on a bike. He gets to his favorite coffee outlet, but a woman steals his parking place. The man in front of him in line places an order for his entire office building. When he finally gets to the counter, he's told that it will be a few minutes because they have to brew a fresh batch.
Sitting in a corner, seething in frustration, a man walks up and hands him a pair of sunglasses and then disappears. Confused, he puts the glasses on and all of sudden little bubbles, like in the Sunday comics, appear above everyone's head. Instead of dialog however, he can read what is really going on in everyone's life.
The woman who cut him off is distracted because her child is sick. The man who placed the huge coffee order is worried about a medical diagnosis he just received. The barista is struggling with addiction. And finally, returning home a bit shaken, he sees the child again with a bubble above his head which says, "Just need someone who cares."
The man gets out of his car and walks over to help the boy fix his bike.
How would we treat each other if we could really see what was in everyone's bubble? I believe that all the walls and all the distance we place between ourselves and others would disappear.
After all, we worship a God who was not content to look down upon us from some safe haven, light years away. We follow a savior who gets down, right down on the same plain with those in the deepest pain, with those who have nothing left.
He looks up, at us, his disciples, and invites us to join him there. He reminds us that this is where God is looking. And by the way, we are not so different. We are broken, too. We yearn for a world turned upside down.
We all deserve to weep.
And we all are blessed.