Tag Archive | "Luke"

Wealth in Poverty

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Beatitude

To Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Luke is attributed the expression “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  For me and, I am certain, most others, the thought of impoverishment is anything but a “blessed” state in which to find oneself, whether one’s poverty is material or spiritual.  And so, is Jesus telling his audience to hang in there and suffer in this life to be rewarded in the hereafter?  Perhaps, but I think not.

 

I believe that the meaning has more to do about the nature of poverty, rather than its earthly manifestations.  One who is impoverished lacks the resources to adequately provide for himself and, by extension, others dependent upon him.  These resources are in part material, like money and property, but also spiritual, as in strength, confidence, vigor, and other intangible assets.

 

Those in the throes of poverty are emptied of all resources, like a once overflowing stream reduced to a trickle by a lengthy drought.  Bereft of most forms of sustenance including, in many cases, their human dignity, the impoverished cannot be said to live so much as exist.  Surely, no one would willingly submit to such an existence.

 

And yet, the state of impoverishment can be a “blessing,” depending upon your perspective.  In common understanding, wealth is synonymous with material gain and pride in achievement or station in life.  To be and to remain “wealthy,” however, requires maintenance, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  How many of us have come to the realization that our material possessions own us?  How mentally and physically draining is it to preserve one’s reputation, image, or area of expertise?  How often has ego, born of confidence and unrealistically high personal expectations, limited our abilities to relate on a purely human level with others?

 

Wealth creates its own baggage in life and, like the links of the chain borne by Jacob Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens’ classic – “A Christmas Carol,” its weight can grow over time, robbing its possessors of the freedom that they believe it provides them.  Poverty, in contrast, can be liberating.  Unfettered from concerns about possessions and social standing, the impoverished, emptied spirit can humbly seek new opportunities, form new opinions, and establish new relationships.  It is this “blessed” state of poverty that I believe Jesus was establishing as a condition for those seeking initiation into the “kingdom of God.”

 

As so often is the case, meaning in life is defined by contradiction.  In weakness, one is strong.  Through despair comes hope and compassion.  In humility, one is glorified.  In poverty, one gains true wealth.

Master Your World

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Heaven and Hell on Earth

Children have a simplicity and clarity of thought that can be both amusing and illuminating for adults.  Cognizant of the duality implicit in the human condition, they both reflect and explain philosophical issues in unexpected and, often, thought-provoking ways.

 

Several years ago, I was conversing with my great-nephew Nicholas, at the time seven or eight years of age.  As often happens in these discussions, Nicholas surprised me with unique takes on age-old areas of speculation, in this instance – the nature of the Divine and the afterlife.

 

With an unabashed innocence typical of his age, he expounded to me his thoughts on eternity.  In so many words, he expressed his doubts about the nature of a Deity who personifies absolute goodness.  Reasoning from his own experience, he expressed the fact that his own behavior is “sometimes good” and “sometimes bad.”  In his judgment, therefore, God can be both “good” and “bad.”  Extending his analysis from the Divine, he concluded that any otherworldly location must reflect both God and its inhabitants.  Thus, he indicated that a Heaven of pure goodness and a Hell of profound evil are not likely.  Rather, he stated that we will all likely go to “Heavell,” encompassing the “good” of Heaven and “bad” of Hell, at the end of our earthly lives.

 

Nicholas’ analysis is both simple and profound.  The concepts of an afterlife and a destination for each of us – based upon our beliefs and behavior during our earthly lives – are manmade and reflect the duality of nature to which we are all witness.  Our innate senses of balance and justice dictate that the inequities that we experience, see, and/or perpetrate in this world must in some sense be rectified – if not in this life, then in another.

 

But, what if any afterlife that we may experience is not a correction, but rather a continuation of our lives on this plane of existence?  Then, we may find that the “Heavell” of Nicholas’ perception is as likely an explanation of an otherworldly universe as any posited. 

 

Strangely, the Western notion of “reward and punishment” is based more upon myth and tradition than upon any definitive inspiration from the Divine.  The Bible, representing the “Word of God” for the majority of the Western world, is singularly silent on the concept of “Heaven.”  Could it be that we have misunderstood or misinterpreted, intentionally or otherwise, the teachings of Jesus and others whom we credit as the architects of Western thinking on this subject?

 

Perhaps, the concept of “Heaven” as a distant, otherworldly reward is a fallacy or an incomplete truth.  Maybe, “Heaven” is a part of any and all existences that we may experience, if only we recognize it.  And, the same might, conceivably, be said of the concept of “Hell.”  Perhaps, “Heaven” and “Hell” perpetually permeate and intertwine with our lives and potential afterlives, with the state in which we find ourselves determined not by God, but by us individually.

 

In this regard, each of us can “reward” or “punish” himself, simply by his own perception of his life’s experiences.  Perhaps, this is the nature of the “dominion” that God conferred upon man in the Genesis narrative (Genesis 1:26 et seq.) and that Jesus spoke about in the beatitude “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  Whether considered a source of earthly or Divine wisdom, these passages clearly evidence the insight that we each determine and orchestrate, to a surprisingly large degree, our own life experiences.

 

Consider how differently two people can interpret the meaning of the same event, say an illness.  One person, bemoaning his fate, may view it as a curse; another, reflecting on the opportunity provided by the illness for positive change, as a blessing.  More important, however, than outward optimism or pessimism is one’s inner expectation.  The “inheritance” of which Jesus spoke and “dominion” promised in the Genesis narrative come only to those who open themselves to all the opportunities availed them by a universe of infinite possibilities and approach life’s journey with faith that the right choices among these opportunities will illuminate the way enabling them to clearly discern the paradise that exists, albeit murkily for most, in all outward experience.

 

If you want to be the master of your life’s experience, then acknowledge and cultivate control over your contribution in the here and now.  Our external experiences mirror our internal state.  This is at the heart of the message for which Jesus lived and died and is representative of the “Holy Grail” for sincere seekers of the “Truth.”

 

From the Cross, Jesus responded to one of the thieves with whom he was executed “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Even as you approach death, you can control your world.  “Heaven,” “Hell,” or “Heavell,” you choose.

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