Get up, go ahead, do something, move…
Based on Luke 6:17-26
In the last week of November 2013, in the fall that I started working at Sicamous United Church, I had the great privilege of stepping off the bus at the old town-site of Capernaum in Israel and making my way down the rocky bank to the Sea of Galilee.
My sandals were quickly off, pant-legs rolled up, and I stepped into that amazing body of water that holds so many of our faith stories. Camera in hand, I took pictures of my feet, my sandals, the sun on the water, my co-pilgrims on the journey. It was sheer delight. Back on the shore, above the archeological dig that was the biblical town of Capernaum, rose a hillside, covered in dry amber-coloured grass. This is the best-guess sight of the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
In Luke’s gospel it’s called the sermon on the plain. Does that matter? I think it does! Matthew tends to spiritualize Jesus’ words – ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, whereas Luke is straight out – Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry.’
Luke, as far as we can gather, was a physician, and as such was clearly aware of the human cost of poverty. He has Jesus preaching on a level place.
There is something wonderfully subversive about the gospel of Luke. Something that reflects the words of the prophets – every valley will be exalted and every hill make low and that makes a level place! Maybe in this world people will not experience the leveling of wealth or power, the fullness of justice, but it is a gospel value, and it is one we must strive for, even if we do not attain it. I think it’s away for Jesus to say, in God’s eyes, you are every bit as valuable as those who think their value is found in their bank accounts and real estate holdings.
Those most open to hearing Jesus then, as now, were the poor, the persecuted. They were seen as expendable by the Roman occupiers and the higher class. So Jesus words are not meant to pacify them but to lift them up.
That day in November 2013, we’d each been given a notebook called Reflections in the Galilee. The first biblical reflection was on the Beatitudes. For as long as I’ve been reading the Beatitudes, I’ve struggled to understand what they mean.
Blessed are they… The Good News Bible doesn’t even use the word `blessed’, but instead uses the word `happy.’ Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn… I think not! And what does `blessed’ mean anyway? It doesn’t mean, `There, there, don’t worry your pretty little head about anything.’ It doesn’t mean you will feel blessed, or everyone would be scrambling to be poor, weak, and persecuted.
That doesn’t happen now does it! So what on earth is Jesus trying to say (for heaven’s sake?) Well, that morning, sitting on a large rock with the water lapping at my feet, I read a fresh perspective on the Beatitudes by Palestinian theologian Archbishop Elias Chacour. He writes: “Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression.
For example, we are accustomed to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…. Etc. “Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the one original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent; to become straight or righteous.”
How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted?” Or “blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” That man would revile me, saying neither I nor my God understood his plight, and he would be right.
When I understand Jesus’ words in the Aramaic, I translate like this: “Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.”
To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying, “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.”
Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair… Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples. Well, I had never read this passage in this way before, and I will never be able to read it again, without hearing Jesus say, “Get up, go ahead, do something, move.”
Later in the day, we stopped to have communion under an olive tree, in a valley, between high rocky cliffs. I read the Beatitudes, I read them through the translation of Archbishop Chacour. These are not passive, or pacifying words. They are words of challenge and encouragement. They are Jesus saying, `Do what is in your power to do.
Mother Teresa, a devout follower of Jesus said, “We can do no great things, we can only do small things with great love.” We are not powerless. Our words are important, our music, our thoughts, our actions… I want to share an incredible true story that I read a few years ago.
CAN THE IMAGINATION SAVE US? by Susan Griffin
I heard the following story from a survivor of the holocaust: Along with many
others who are crowded into the bed of a large truck, the surrealist poet Robert
Desnos is being taken away from the barracks of the concentration camp where he
has been held prisoner. The mood is somber; everyone knows the truck is headed for
the gas chambers.