By Rev. Canon Renee
I bless your eyes that you may see God’s
image in everyone.
I bless your ears that you may hear the cry of the poor.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing but the Gospel of Jesus.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament.
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you.
Our ears are bombarded every day by all sorts of sounds. Sounds of laughter, sounds of music, sounds of sirens, sounds of traffic, sounds of television, sounds of computers and cash registers. On some days our ears hear sounds of sadness, sounds of worry, sounds of fear, sounds of grief. This part of the blessing stresses a certain kind of hearing. Hearing the cry of the poor. The cry of those who cannot speak. The cry of those who are alone and have no one with whom to share their loneliness. The cry of those who have no helper in this life. The cry of those who have been abandoned or rejected. The cry of those who are weak and helpless. The cry of those who are at the “bottom of the heap” and live under constant oppression. The cry of those who feel they are not worthy to live.
The cries of the poor do not go away. And, for those who have ears to hear, the Scriptural record is clear that God is on the side of the poor. The Hebrew word for the poor ones is “anawim.” It is the plural form of “anaw” which means humble, afflicted, lowly. It applies to those who are forgotten by the world. It applies to those who have no resources to get them what they want and need. It applies to those who have no one on whom to depend but God. The Bible is filled with the stories of these “anawim”, these poor ones, crying out for help and vindication. And it is always–it is always–to these “anawim” that God shows preference.
When the Israelites were in Egypt they were “anawim.” They were oppressed, enslaved, and abused. You remember the story when Moses met God at the burning bush. (Exodus 3 – 4.) After telling Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground, God said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So come, Moses, I will send you to Pharaoh, to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Again in Isaiah 41, the alternative Old Testament reading for this morning, God shows his preference for the “anawim.” “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Or consider all the acts of Jesus done because He heard the cry of the poor. Think of Zacchaeus, and Mary Magdalene, and the woman caught in adultery, and the children, and the Canaanite woman, and the woman at the well, and the man born blind, and the demoniac. On and on the stories could go. In fact, if we were to extricate from the Bible those pieces where God is showing preference for the poor, there would be very little left in the Bible.
Somehow in our society and culture, we have found ourselves separated not only from each other, but from the poor. We live in a world that insulates us, for the most part, from that which is difficult and uncomfortable. We have diversions that keep us from encountering the pain, the loneliness, the weakness, the fear, the emptiness, the meaninglessness of those around us. We even have diversions to keep us from encountering our own pain, loneliness, weakness, fear, emptiness, and meaninglessness. When we start to feel those things coming on, or sense that someone around us is in the clutches of those things, we go to the mall to shop, we go to Borders for a latté, we bury ourselves in our work, we turn on our favorite sit-com. And we cease to live. Yes, we cease to live. We have ceased to hear the beating of our own heart. We have ceased to hear the beating of the heart of the world. We have ceased to hear the cries that can melt our frigid heart and warm it with the spirit of life–the spirit of compassion. The more separated we are from compassion, the more lifeless we become.
Think of those times in your life when you have exercised compassion. Think of the emotions that filled you, the love that you expressed, the tenderness you felt, the wonder of being human that you knew. In the moments that you exercised compassion you were truly alive.
In wonder will our hearts become
Whene’er we hear the cry of God’s poor.
Our hearts will fill with God’s compassion
We’ll only love them more. (To tune I Sought the Lord)
I was once checking into a hotel for a meeting. The line at the registration desk was very long, because an entire convention was checking in. There was only one young woman behind the desk, and you could tell she was harried. The phone was ringing, she was trying to process the people who were registering, she was trying to be sensitive to the complaints of how long it was taking. I was frustrated myself, and could see her feeling of being overwhelmed. But I didn’t do anything to help. After all, what could I do? All of a sudden, a couple moved right up to the desk without paying any attention to the others in the line. They handed the girl a styrofoam box. They said, “We brought you a piece of banana cream.” The young woman’s face lit up, a big smile found its way to her face, and she heaved a sigh of gratitude and joy. It seems that the couple had asked when they checked in where they could go to dinner. As if the woman didn’t have enough going on, she also had to act as the concierge giving restaurant recommendations. She mentioned a nearby restaurant that had great pies–her favorite, she had said, was banana cream. Somehow in the midst of all that chaos, this couple heard the cry of that poor harassed hotel clerk, and brought her a piece of her favorite pie. That was an act of compassion. That was hearing the cry of the poor. That was a simple act that gave life to the woman and to the couple.
Hearing the cry of the poor always comes at some cost. It always forces us to acknowledge our own wealth in comparison to the one who is poor. It puts us in a place of vulnerability where we may need to give up our own plans and agendas. It can seem overwhelming and frightening. Sometimes it can feel like it’s just too much for us to do with the resources we feel we have available. For the couple who brought the hotel clerk a piece of pie, the cost was probably around $3.00. (This was Idaho, not California!) But the cost for Moses was much greater. It is actually quite humorous to read Moses’ response to God. It was certainly not a response of childlike delight! Essentially, God had said to Moses, “Moses, I have heard the cry of the poor. Now you must hear the cry of the poor, and act on their behalf.” Moses jumped quickly to his own defense. “Oh no, Lord, not me. Who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? For one thing, I don’t know how to tell them who sent me. For another thing, they may not believe me or listen to me. And thirdly, I’m just not eloquent. I don’t do well standing up in front of people and talking. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. I’m just not a person who can think quickly on his feet. Oh Lord, please send someone else!”
This is really a wonderful interchange between God and Moses. Moses did not start out his day thinking he was going to have to hear the cries of the poor. He thought he was simply getting dressed and going off to work. But there in the midst of his everyday life, God came to him and gave him the great task of leading the people out of Egypt. And what is so wonderful about the interchange is that one can sense in Moses’ excuses, that Moses, himself, had become an “anawim”–a poor one. Moses had become one who was humble and lowly, one who had no resources of his own to get what he needed, one who had no one to depend on but God. He simply was not capable of doing what needed to be done. It would have to be God alone working through him that would accomplish the great Exodus from Egypt. It was Moses’ own poverty that made it possible for him to be an instrument of God.
When we take seriously the words of the blessing–I bless your ears that you may hear the cry of the poor–it will mean that we must become poor ourselves. We would shy away from poverty and helplessness, and yet the greatest status, the greatest prestige, the greatest acclaim one can have in this life is to be an “anawim”–a person who is lowly and must depend on God alone. “Blessed are the “anawim,” said Jesus. “For theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3.)
I bless your ears that you may hear the
cry of the poor in the midst of your daily life. I bless your ears
that you may act out of the center of compassion, and know what it is to
be human and fully alive. I bless your ears that you may recognize
your own poverty. I bless your ears that hearing the cry of the poor
and becoming poor yourself, you will find the Kingdom of heaven.
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