There is a story told by a person who felt both messages in the gospel scripture Luke 6:17-26 in a very personal way in an experience. This person was connected to a congregation that had a pattern of doing short-duration mission work in a foreign country. The mission work in this instance was the funding and building of a clinic in a very poor community. Before the clinic was built, the people who lived in the community had no access to even the most basic types of healthcare. There wasn't even a place to get aspirin. As one visitor to the community had said a few years before, "if a sick child doesn't get well because it is loved and prayed for, then that child doesn't get well." It was this observation that motivated the leadership of the congregation to build the clinic.
So, the clinic was built. And the community had a basic health resource for the first time ever. Lives were saved and changed. A family that lived in the community decided to thank the members of the congregation who had been there building the clinic. They decided to have a meal to honour the visitors. This family was very poor. The guests at the meal found the host's home to be three non-mortared walls of cinder blocks. The roof was corrugated metal, lying on poles, held down by rocks. The kitchen was outside and consisted of a hearth with a grate and a clay oven. There were no chairs, no table. The plates were metal.
The food was glorious. There was chicken and rice, beans, well-seasoned avocados, a fresh chutney’s, tropical fruits, and sugared pastries. There was fresh, hot, hand-made bread rolls/damper. To drink, there were Soft drinks and a bottle of brandy. During the meal the guest realized that the cost of the food was equal to more than six weeks of income for the hosts. The guest also realised that was more money than that was on his person. The first thought was to give the hosts the money after the meal. But upon reflection he concluded that the gift would be patronizing and would dishonour the hosts. The next thought was to give the money to the priest who was rector of the congregation so that the priest could slip the money to the hosts. But again, upon reflection, he could only conclude that the action would dishonour the hosts. Finally, he decided to simply enjoy the meal with profound appreciation and gratitude.
Later, the guest said this about the experience. "It was the greatest honour I have even received. That family spent six weeks of income to thank and honour me. No one else has ever come close to that. I realised that the host family is the richest family that I know. They are so rich that they can spend six weeks of income on a banquet to honour someone that they will never see again in this world. I only spent about a month's worth of income to celebrate our child's wedding. And that marriage has given me grandchildren who are the dearest things in my life. I am poor and stingy. My hosts are rich and generous.
This is a challenging text for many to interpret. Luke’s text (commonly referred to as the Beatitudes) points to the manifestation of God in and across our lived experiences. It is challenging because it requires us to see God in places and in ways that are antithetical to the world’s priorities and perspectives. As Christians, we are called to use a formula inverse to that provided by society. The world only sees blessing in the signs and wonders that are principally material in nature, ornate by design, signified by status, and socially accepted or approved. However, God’s priorities do not align with the world. God’s blessing is grace. It is operating and living in the preferences and expectations of God. God blesses those whom society marginalises.
As James Cone teaches, “Christian theology is a theology of liberation, and its task should be concerned with explicating the meaning of God’s liberating activity so that those who labour under enslaving powers will see that forces of liberation are the very activity of God.” Our God is God of the oppressed. God through Jesus Christ intends to liberate the captive; heal the sick; empower the poor and weak; uplift the downtrodden; and radically transform the political, social, and economic systems of this life. And boy does our world need this transformation rather than more walls.
God can and will show up in real and necessary ways. Christians are called to see God evidenced, or made real, in tangible and intangible forms within our lives. Ultimately, if we follow God’s call, we will create conflict with the world around us. Society seeks to reinforce its own values, and the prioritising of God’s values will make us antithetical and antagonistic to the world. But through God’s grace, we are blessed even in our discomfort. We are blessed through entering into a new way of being in which we reject the rubric that society attempts to use to measure our lives.