“I’ve been so blessed.”
That is what she said to me.
There was nothing about the situation that looked like much of a blessing.
She was gasping for breath, in the latter stages of ALS, struggling to find enough breath support to speak.
Her world had now collapsed down to the room in the care facility.
She could not hold a book anymore or work a television remote.
On the ceiling of her room the nursing staff had taken to posting different pictures, posters, outdoor scenes, or vibrant flowers so that she would have something to look at as she could no longer even turn her head to change her view of the world.
“I’ve been so blessed.” She insisted and persisted.
What, I wondered, could make a woman who was captive to her own failing body insist on that?
It took me the better part of my Internship year to get to know her, and little by little over the course of that year I learned that she had led an extraordinary life before her illness.
She told me of travels, of family, of work and things done.
She told me about serving in the war, and her job afterward, all in short, halting phrases.
The stories and memories were all the more precious now that even the ability to convey them had all been slowly stripped away.
Reduced now to the confines of her mind and not distracted by other things, she could revisit her life through memory and make this kind of pronouncement. When she looked inside, all that she could say was:
“I’ve been so blessed.”
I think we often scratch our heads over Jesus’ beatitudes. Just how does this work?
Jesus looks out at the crowd and says “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the peacemakers…
On and on he goes pronouncing blessing upon one group after another, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the persecuted, blessed are the meek…
I often wonder how those words were received by the crowd?
Did they strike the crowd as good news, or as “pie in the sky” pronouncements? How did the crowds hear them on that day?
If you had been hungering physically or for justice, would Jesus’ “blessed are those” have sounded like a deep promise or a hollow platitude?
Then it occurred to me that maybe I had missed two important details about this story.
The first detail is that although Jesus is on the mountaintop and the crowd is assembled around him, he is teaching is actually his disciples.
“his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
So then, these aren’t pronouncements made to the assembled crowd so much as they are meant for the disciples.
But, (and here is the important thing!) this is a teaching that is being done as Jesus surveys the crowd before him, and who does he see?
He sees people who he knows are mourning, grieving the loss of loved ones, of their livelihood, and a myriad of other things because grief comes, and strikes deep and does not know a timetable.
He sees people who are meek, subjugated under Roman occupation, feeling the loss of their own agency. Jesus recognizes the helpless feeling of not being sure if raising your voice would do any good, or whether it may bring further suffering upon you and your loved ones.
He sees people who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. People who are tired of the games played by those in power, the presence of troops on the village street, and the endless transactional nature of life where those with little power live at the whim of those who can move, shake and marshal resources.
How does Jesus know all that?
Well, it is because Jesus has spent time with the crowd. He has been out in their towns and streets.
He as spent time healing those in the crowd, and hearing their stories and concerns.
He has spent time listening to them and living with them.
He has been in their midst feeding and walking the dusty back roads of Galilee, enough so that when the people hear that Jesus is going up to the mountain, they follow him.
And as the crowds follow Jesus, the disciples see the crowds assembling and they probably have some thoughts of their own.
We are, after all, usually eager to make assumptions about crowds.
Maybe they are charitable assumptions.
Maybe they are less than kind.
We’ve actually had quite a bit of practice in that recently, from protests to political rallies, from people camping out to force the resignation of a police chief to armed militia gathering on courthouse steps to make a statement about mandates against masks and closures.
When you see a crowd, you tend to make an assessment pretty quickly, form an opinion, and generalize about those gathered.
I would guess that it would be no different for the disciples of Jesus’ day. They survey the crowd assembling and make assessments, generalize their views, are probably quick to adopt or to dismiss.
Which is what Jesus chooses to do all the more important.
Jesus surveys the crowd, with all of their competing interests and loyalties, all of their pain and smugness, and pronounces them “blessed.”
Take note of this, disciples, this is how Jesus sees the crowd.
He does not see them for their outward appearance, but he sees them for the story they have lived and are living.
He sees them for what is going on inside.
He sees them for their mourning, and their meekness, and the struggling with persecution and then reminds his disciples, “You see these people, … they are blessed.”
They are blessed because God sees them and is at work in the crowd through me, and through you, to bring about hope and change and a promised Kingdom.
A place where mourning finds comfort, and the meek a portion.
There will be crowds on Tuesday, and I am pretty sure that we will look upon them and be tempted to make some assumptions.
Some will be charitable.
Some will be less so.
But I have a new set of eyes to see those crowds now, because I hear Jesus remind me that in those crowds reside the “Blessed.”
May I see people with the same compassion and understanding that Jesus does, for that is what he teaches his disciples this day. They are blessed.