For the past two weeks we’ve been reading chapter six of Luke’s gospel, the presentation of Jesus’ central teaching, the kingdom of God is here. He began with four beatitudes and four contrary woes. They were followed by a string of practical interpretations: a call to love our enemies, to lend without expecting repayment, to forgive people who have hurt us, to cease all condemnation of others, to be as merciful as God.
These beatitudes and teachings spotlight the characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom. If we’re brave enough to listen to them with the ears of our hearts, these teachings will pose an existential challenge to us because these life principles are in total opposition to our most natural inclinations. But they can liberate us from the prison we call the world. They’re the keys to the kingdom of God.
This last portion of the teaching that we read today, takes on a different energy. The gentle principles of the beatitudes suddenly rise up clad in armor ready to do battle with the world along two fronts: our every-day, secular life and our personal, interior life.
The first battle. “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall in to a pit?” How many wars do we have to fight, and how many millions have to suffer and die, before we realize that no one wins a war? It seems, at times, that we want to make sure that the poor are always with us. What will it take for us to feel responsibility for each others welfare? The world is filled with blind guides who convince us that they have all the answers. When will we take off our blindfolds and begin to walk by the guiding light of the kingdom?
The second battle. “No disciple is superior to the teacher.” Insight and understanding are an eternal quest. Never stop questioning. Never stop learning. Never stop changing.
The third battle. “Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” The world possesses each of us. We’ve come to call this our original sin. It convinces us that the problems we have, and the suffering we experience, are caused by other people, other nations, other ideologies. To free ourselves from this cycle of scapegoating and suffering, each of us must fight a battle for liberation within ourselves. Only to the extent we battle our own demons will we be able to celebrate the freedom of the kingdom of God with others.
A final litmus test. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit.” This calls for an honest assessment of ourselves, first of all, then of the guides we’ve chosen to follow, and finally, the society we live in. This will be a painful exercise if we do it honestly. The world has taught us to scapegoat. The world has taught us to accept our blindness. Seeing the light of truth can be painful, like walking out of a dark tunnel into the brilliant light of day. It may take a while for the eyes of our hearts to adjust, but when they do, we’ll get the first glimpse of the kingdom of God. We’ll be able to begin nourishing ourselves with the wisdom of the beatitudes.