Ben Loves Thursdays

Luke 6:17-26

Ben loves Thursdays. That is the day the “Sandinistas” come. As you know, Ben is my Black Lab and the “Sandinistas” are the cleaning ladies. For the last ten years they have come from south of the boarder and of course all have Green Cards and work permits. They are Christians, for they wear their crosses. Moreover they come to The Christmas Show every year and often attend Christmas Eve Mass and Holy Saturday Eucharist.

With military precision they perform their mission. One secures the perimeter and posts guard, smoking a cigarette outside. The commander plumps herself down at the kitchen table, draws her cell phone and contacts command central, while eating her sandwich. Her two associates go on patrol, chasing dust bunnies and ferocious cobwebs, while not touching anything above four feet high. All the time they are cooing, crooning, and chuckling over Ben. “Oh, Ben!” they rhapsodize. Ben loves it. He twists and turns leaps and pirouettes and does points. He totally accepts them and affirms them. Ben does not ask what they think. He does not demand creedal conformity or catechetical certainty. Ben takes them as they are, poor, dispossessed, hungry, tired and discouraged. He rejoices in their presence and enthusiasm. Ben takes them as they are. You see, Ben is blind. He cannot see the color of their skin, the slant of their nose or of their eyes. Ben doesn’t know about the texture of their hair of the style (or lack there of) of their clothes. But he can tell the open from the cautious, the genuine from the phony, and the true dog lover from the wary

They can share the sofa with him. He doesn’t care about success, accomplishments, failures, wealth or poverty, background, nationality or heritage. They are all welcome on the sofa as long as he can have his pillow and kneeler. It is rumored that he can be bribed with half a sandwich or half a bagel, but what is life without a little temptation? After forty-five minutes they climb into their SUV and roar off to assault their next destination. Ben stretches out on the sofa and thinks about them. If he is feeling liberal, his head is at the left of the sofa. If he is feeling conservative, his head is at the right end of the sofa. A good Episcopalian, his stomach and heart are always right in the middle of the sofa. Ben was named after St. Benedict because as a pup he needed a rule of life. Ben needed a way of life that would enable him to secure a reasonable goal: acceptance, security and peace. Each day he follows a particular routine around the house. He receives his communion of insulin and kibble everyday and wears his collar and black coat with dignity.

You and I both know that I am not talking about my dog. I am talking about the beatitudes in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus would love Ben, for Ben accepts of individuals for who they are. He doesn’t rate them according to position or success, accomplishment or status. He affirms them right in the gritty ordinariness of everyday life. Jesus speaks to these people of the Kingdom of heaven. By that term Jesus means at the very least closeness to God and living in accordance to His will and purpose.

Now in Jesus’ time there were various ways of life that were offered to guide a Jew into an appropriate way of life and an appropriate relationship to God. The Sadducees and Pharisees laid emphasis upon The Law. By that they meant not only the Ten Commandments but also the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. The Sadducees were literal fundamentalists and held to a strict interpretation. The Pharisees were revisionists and more practical in their interpretation. Some found that the weight of the law that these two groups laid upon them was almost unbearable. There were also the followers of Wisdom literature, who were the observers and scientists of the time, noting the patterns of behavior in life and in nature. Another group was the Essenes, who sought esoteric answers and a moral and liturgical purity in order to have a way of life that brought them closer to God. Finally there were the historical and cultural Deuteronimists who saw the failures and successes in national and personal life as a reflection of God’s approval and favor. When the nation strayed toward idolatry, so they reasoned, God punished the nation. Success as a nation and success as an individual were signs of God’s favor. Poverty and suffering were seen as indications of God’s disfavor (see for example the Book of Job).

Jesus’ teachings reflect awareness and an understanding of the above positions, the dependence upon the Law, the observations of Wisdom literature, the piety of the Esseenes, and the perspective of the Deuteronomists. He also incorporated much of the tradition of the prophets. In saying that the poor, the hungry, the grieving, the hated and those that look for the Son of Man (the Messiah) will be satisfied, Jesus is speaking to you and me even today. The hungry are all around us, both in the city and in the world. Our gatherings of food for the food pantry are symbolic at best. Those who are poor are legion. We are asked to accept them and to care for them rather than to blame them. Those who weep are to be comforted. Some here in this country and many in other countries are hated for their religious beliefs and scorned for their practice of their faith. Jesus is accepting of all of these people, and he is accepting and affirming of us as well. Each of us is, to some extent, poor and hungry in spirit and thirsts after righteousness, as St. Matthew extrapolates on these beatitudes. Each of us wants to cry out of despair or desperation or disappointment over our failures and over our lives. Many of us are resented, hated and despised.

The message that we are blessed and affirmed by God regardless of our failures and stations in life is not simply happy talk. You and I are challenged by the woes that follow to maintain a way of life (or a discipline if you will) that has a sharply ethical side to it. Jesus proclaims a list of woes for those who are rich, for those who are gluttonous and sybaritic, and for those who mindlessly revel. They have their reward in this life. Their narcissism, self-centeredness and indulgence distance them from God.

Such condemnations make me feel uncomfortable, for I am well off compared to many. I am fat and not hungry. I laugh a lot, and I like a good time. I am familiar with some of the Seven Deadly Sins. Most likely some of you feel uneasy about these woes. But remember that Jesus went to the wedding feast at Cana; he dined frequently with friends in lower and upper rooms. But he did not practice his piety for show. He did not tolerate hypocrisy, and He demanded both justice and mercy. Jesus could sniff out the selfish and the phony.

When you and I are kind to the poor, the hungry, the mourning and the despised we are performing charity, personal acts of kindness and good intentions. We are affirming and blessing others, just as Jesus blesses and affirms us. In his promises of participation in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is also implying social strictures against the causes of poverty, hunger, grief and hatred. He is pointing towards justice. As affirming Christians you and I are challenged to work for and to demand those things in society that work for elimination of poverty and hunger, violence and hatred. That is the ethical side of the beatitudes. That is the imperative in the indicative.

Ben, of course, is sleeping through all of this. His immigrant friends have left. He awaits their return and their simple acts of loving-kindness. I do not know the solution to the immigration problems in this country, any more than Ben does. Like him on the sofa, my heart and body are in the middle on these issues. Personally, I think we should declare an amnesty and impose a fine on those already here. But that solution has its problems as well. We should not break people on the law, drown them in reams of studies and regulations, or put our heads in the clouds and try to walk away from the problem. As Christians you and I are called to bless and to affirm, to work for and support reasonable and compassionate solutions to the many social problems that we cannot avoid.

Like Ben, we guard our homes and loved ones loyally. We are protective and loving. We get lost in the maze of things sometimes due to our blindness. But at the end of the day you and I are called to affirm and bless one another and to bless others through our compassion and through our social actions. At the end of each day we are fed by the love of others, the sacraments and the love of Christ as you and I seek to serve God and Christ in all persons. And that is the dog gone truth.