Ann brushed a swath of dark brown hair from her face, turned to me with furrowed brows and pink eyes and whispered, “How do I do this?”
Twenty-four hours later I walked behind Amanda as we snaked quickly through a labyrinth of concrete, cardboard and corrugated metal with armed guards protecting us from gangs that had killed in recent days. The smell of decaying trash grew stronger as we marched toward the city dump. Vultures swarmed overhead. Amanda’s shoulders heaved, her gentle sobs only heard by me and the God she cried to.
Back on the bus safe and sound, Lisa-Jo’s voice shook as she asked God, “Do you see this? Are you here?”
I’m thankful in poverty because it exposes my own.
Jesus pronounced the “poor in spirit” blessed. There was a small island where every kind of animal roamed and every vegetable and fruit grew from the most fertile soil in the empire. Ancients named it “blessed”, using the same Greek word recorded in the first beatitude – because it had been so gifted that a person could live there forever and want for nothing.
The “poor” Jesus blessed aren’t the spiritual working poor, those who can grind out a meager living, who through skill and determination can tug until the ends finally meet. The word Jesus used described beggars in his day, those who had no skill and bodies broken, with nothing to offer, no hope except that a stranger might pass by and give mercy and some change.
The mother in the slum whose little girl has gone missing. The twelve year old prostitute pregnant by a sweaty stranger. The boy who’s father, possessed by addiction, beats him every night. The girl who picks through trash for breakfast. The student whose stomach growls for days before being filled. These are blessed not because physical poverty is good – it is evil – but because their poverty has shaken them to the end of their rope, into spiritual poverty. Dependent, they fling their fears and needs onto God’s shoulders. Hopeless and helpless, they come to Him alone for daily bread/Bread.
They dwell in and on Him forever and want for nothing.
Rich Becomes Poor
In the Old Testament the physically poor and the spiritually poor were one in the same. The prophets and psalmist realized the connection between material lack, oppression, powerlessness and the resulting spiritual dependence upon God. In the New Testament the connection remains: Matthew records Jesus’ blessing as being for the “poor in spirit” but Luke records it as spoken over the “poor” and followed by a curse on the rich.
But a miraculous contamination can take place when rich meets poor and God comes by. Poverty of spirit can catch like a refining fever spread through hugs and shared tortillas and tickles and story. And the rich stumble away afflicted with difficult questions and sometimes even shame. We are made desperate for healing answers and absolution. Our tears well up from the deep within us. And the Comforter comes to hover over the deep and crafts out of it surprise hope and gratitude and joy inexpressible.
The rich become poor. In spirit. Our pockets emptied of self-sufficiency, vain religion and so-called knowledge, we beg God to come by here and give us change.
Come By Here
At the end of a day full of questions and emotion I pulled my guitar out and sang a song I’d finished shortly before boarding the plane to Guatemala. I wasn’t sure it was finished. But as I strummed the chords in my hotel room and whispered the words to God, it fit the needs of the day – the day Ann asked me that hard honest question. And I felt pushed to do something very uncomfortable for me, to go play it for Ann face to face without the long secure distance between stage and audience.
I walked down the hall, sat on a hotel bed across from Ann’s and sang this prayer from the poor of the third world and first world and every place in between, from all of us with empty outstretched hands in need of change.
There we sat. Two beggars in tears, blessed to need the peace and presence of Christ, the sovereignty of the Father and the power of the Spirit.
Blessed because the kingdom of God, His rule, has overthrown ours. And we want for nothing.
Today we fly home “full” – as Amanda puts it – made rich by His promises to work all these things together for our good, to be a light unto our path as our feet search for the next sure step, to give us a future and a hope, to hear us when we call to Him, to lead us into good deeds that were prepared for us before the founding of the world, to give sight to the blind and freedom to the captives, to sing over us and fill us with Spirit and guide us into truth, to deliver us from evil, to continuously overcome he who is in the world, to never leave us or forget us: in the slums of Guatemala and the suburbs and cities of America and on a pig farm in Canada.
God has come.
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