Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. (Matthew 15:30, NIV)
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down…. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5: 1-3)
I try to imagine our meeting house so crowded that every seat is taken, and people are forced to sit on the floor or look in from the doorways of rooms. While attendance at Old Chatham Meeting is quite good, I doubt that we’ve ever had such an experience. Jesus, of course, was always attracting throngs of people; and—while he was always respectful and compassionate toward individuals in a crowd—he frequently fled the crush of the crowds, praying in lonely and deserted places.
So, who made up the crowds? Yes, there was an occasional scribe or pharisee from the higher echelons of society, but—for the most part—those who came to Jesus were the poor and powerless. They were dispossessed farmers, day laborers, women, and children—half-starved because of Roman taxation, suffering a variety of ailments like leprosy and mental illness. They were ignorant and despised, “unclean” and shunned by their betters.
Well, liberal Friends are not like these people at all! By and large, we have education and money; and we are not “poor in spirit.” We are instead the bearers of culture and a rich spiritual tradition. And yet—in our hearts, we know that we’re more like the poor than we’d care to admit. Perhaps we’re not addicted to alcohol or crack cocaine; but maybe we compulsively use social media, maybe material comfort and convenience is our drug of choice. And, as we age, we inevitably fall prey to the disability and illness that the poor have suffered earlier in their lives.
Moreover, we did not give ourselves the advantage of good genes and good parenting. God bestowed those gifts on us. All human beings come from God, are created by God, and are therefore God’s children. The truth is—we’re part of the crowd of paralytics and demoniacs that Jesus ministered to, and we need God’s grace if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (inspired by a sermon of Diana Butler Bass)
~ Richard Russell
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