(I wrote this reflection in the spring of 1998, while living with boys that we were taking off the streets.)
Every time I return to the US, I have been asked by my brothers and sisters in Christ, “Seeing the poverty, did you realize how blessed we are here in the States?” It is difficult though for me to find a response. If we reverse the question, we ask, “Do you realize how cursed they are?”
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” I am living with four children who have spent most of their lives scrapping to survive on the streets. They have known poverty. They have known hunger. They have known sorrow. And they are blessed? They have experienced disease, sexual abuse, and rejection. And they are blessed? Everyday I have to remind them of normal habits like to change their clothes, to speak without screaming, and to resolve their problems without beating each other up. And these teenagers are blessed?
I would say they are cursed. They have little education and little hope of reintegrating into society. They are stigmatized by a city who knows the faces of her beggars. They bear the emotional and physical scars of being beaten, being rejected, and being cursed. In turn they beat, they reject, and they curse. Sin and evil in people and society perpetuate the curse.
But as I seek to know Jesus intimately in the least, He begins to reveal their blessedness. It is hidden and sometimes evasive, but let me tell you how they are blessed. In a few words: they need a Savior. These boys realize they can’t save themselves, as opposed to some of the wealthy who do just fine on their own.
Last night I had a one-on-one discussion with each boy. They had each been misbehaving and asked me to discipline them. We discussed their consequence and then prayed. Each one asked God to forgive them and to change them. I wish I could so easily admit my errors and recognize my need for correction. They are blessed because this is the posture of the heart that pleases God, and God joins them and fights on their side. Blessed are the poor!
These former street children are teaching me how to seek God. My understanding of “blessed” is not God’s understanding. The Father sent the blessed Son to “redeem us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” He was not only cursed but became the curse for us. Jesus identified with the cursed of His day – those working in commercial sex, the outcast, and the diseased – and calls His church to do the same. Jesus even countered the blessings with the verses under which I tremble: “But woe to you who are rich, for are receiving your reward in full. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” In the past, I identified the blessed as having enough money to sustain a comfortable and healthy. But my own life identifies much closer with what Jesus warns against than with what He blesses.
And that brings me back to the question which I struggle to answer, “Do you see how blessed we are?” I think it is better asked, “Do you know how blessed they are?”