On a Radical Vision for Humankind
February 13, 2022
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
Today’s sermon is titled On a Radical Vision for Humankind.
If Jesus had his way, our world would be a very different place. His vision for humanity, his vision for how things could be, is radical but it is not new. My choice of the word “radical” to describe Jesus’s vision for humanity is an intentional choice. The word “radical” comes from the latin radix, meaning “root.” Jesus’s vision for humanity is radical because it is far-reaching and thorough, right down to the very root of who we are and how we relate to one another. His vision for humanity was not new, however; a long line of Hebrew prophets had been calling for fundamental social change for nearly one thousand years.
All throughout the history of humanity, there have been those who raise their voices to call us to change and to warn us what is at stake. Today, one such voice rings out in Psalm 1, the first song listed in the collection of 150. The psalmist could not be more clear in the message. Those who meditate on the law of the Lord will be like trees growing by the stream; “in all they do they prosper.” The wicked, however, are “like the chaff that the wind drives away.” (If only it were that simple.)
The psalmist concludes with a promise that “the Lord will watch over the ways of the righteous, but the ways of the wicked shall perish.” It seems to me there is plenty of wickedness out there wreaking havoc in the world, but there is something more going on here and I will try to articulate it, because Jesus picks up on it hundreds of years later. The psalmist is pointing out that those who live in righteousness are like trees planted by the water. They are rooted, they are part of a system, a system in which they can prosper. “Prosper” is an important choice of words here. The word “prosper” comes from the latin root sperare, meaning “hope.” The righteous are part of a life-giving system where hope can be found and where hope can grow.
Friends, we know this is true. I am certain we have seen this play out in our lives and in our community. When our motives are positive and productive, inclusive and supportive, we build relationships and we lift everyone up. As a result, we are all more secure in part because we are interdependent. We learn, ideally, to depend on one another and all the while acknowledge that we also depend on the force of goodness we call God in making good choices, choices that benefit more than just ourselves.
Things work out differently for the wicked, and for the aspects of ourselves that may fit in that category. When motives are negative and counterproductive, exclusive and unsupportive, solid and lasting relationships can not grow and prosper. There is no place for hope to take root and, as the psalmist says, the wind “drives them away.” There is nothing, there is no one, to hold them in place, no life-giving community in which to prosper. The wicked suffer in ways that are not always obvious. The wicked parts of ourselves cause us to suffer, too, suffer the ramifications and isolation of being judgemental, confrontational, self-centered, close-minded, and fiercely, doggedly “independent.” What a lonely word, “independent.” What a lonely existence.
Jesus is trying to save his followers from such a fate. Jesus has a radical vision for humankind that would completely reorient how we think of ourselves and how we think of one another, but the essence of his message is obscured by the translation from Aramaic to Greek and then to English. We read “Blessed are you who are poor for the kingdom of God is yours.” This phrase has long been misinterpreted; prescribing poverty is wildly inconsistent with the rest of Jesus’s teachings. With the help of linguists Dave Brisbin and Neil Douglas-Klotz, a more accurate translation would be as follows: “Enriched are those who live in humility and gratitude for the reign of God is theirs.” This provides such a greater depth of insight! Enriched are those who live in humility and gratitude. We know that to be true! Surely we have all experienced, at the very least, moments of true humility and gratitude. In such times, we are living in the kingdom of God, in the reign of God where priorities are in right order. This is what Jesus is calling for. This is what the psalmist is describing. This is the state of being where we can become like the trees growing by the stream, well-rooted, interdependent, part of a living system like we have never before experienced.
I learned a new word this week: saudade. Saudade is defined as “melancholy nostalgia for something that has not yet happened.” Saudade perfectly describes what I interpret to be Jesus’s sentiment here. He is so sad that his people are not thriving, not prospering. He knows there is a better way but to get there, he must reorient the societal and political structure of his day. His people are suffering, growing poorer while the chief priests and tax collectors and those in league with the occupying Roman forces prosper and thrive. Jesus knows there is a better way and it starts with each one of us; it starts with dismantling the social barriers that we construct.
Jesus begins with a call for humility and gratitude. We read “Blessed are those who are poor for the kingdom of God is theirs.” Now we know the more accurate translation is, “Enriched are those who live in humility and gratitude for the reign of God is theirs.” I invite you to imagine with me a world in which those who had the most resources were secure enough, were interdependent enough, to begin to live in humility and gratitude. Imagine a world in which the uber wealthy were not afraid of losing their fortunes because they did not look to their fortunes for security; instead they knew that their true security is found in relationship with others and in relationship with something greater, something greater that tied their fate to the fate of all of humankind. That something greater is God.
What I am talking about, Friends, and what Jesus was talking about, too, and the psalmist, is a radical vision for humankind. What stands in our way is really just one thing: our insecurity. We have learned, over millennia as we evolved, that our survival depended on our resources. We are ingrained with the idea that more is better, that more will keep us safe, that more will guard us against being without and to a large extent, that is true. But with more and more, the sense of independence grows and grows, and the sense of interdependence becomes unnecessary. Without the assurance of interdependence within a community, without the assurance of strong and true and genuine relationships, vulnerability becomes inevitable, unescapable. Hence Jesus’s statement, “Woe to you who are rich.”
Again we turn to our linguists. “Woe” is not a curse, not at all. Woe is a warning. Woe is the opposite of “Do not be afraid.” Woe means “beware.” “Beware,” Jesus says. Riches, fullness, or a life of ease can offer the illusion of independence and security, independence and security from the rest of humanity, and from God. What a lonely existence. Jesus wants more for us. He has a radical vision for humanity where a person’s worth is not determined by their possessions or status; in Jesus’s vision of humanity, every person has inherent worth. How simple it sounds, and yet how difficult it is to live out.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that we are all part of a slow-moving cultural revolution. It began way before the time of Christ and it will continue long after our time here is done. Our responsibility, in my opinion, as followers of Christ, is to take every opportunity we can to build and strengthen our relationships with one another because this is the root, the radix, of our existence. Interdependence creates a social safety net that will serve us all, across the entire economic spectrum, across all cultural and social barriers. So be it! Amen.
God of wisdom, we are living in a world where love is too often obscured by fear and violence, and our hearts and minds are heavy with the weight of the struggle to understand. Our hearts are broken open by the shock and we grieve for the victims, their families, and for those moved to violence by unseen forces of sadness, illness and desperation. Dear God, we need so much healing on so many levels. Lord, we pray for ourselves, that we may hold fast to the golden thread of hope for the future of humanity. Save us, please, from sinking into apathy. We are in desperate need of a great shift in our culture. In this place, together, this morning, we are aiding in the cultural shift as we for deeper understanding, as we live into the lovingkindness of Christ, and as we share our best selves with one another. Help us, God, to become what we most wish to see in the world. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who gifted us this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2:
“May God grant you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in deep knowledge. May the eyes of your mind be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of his calling.”