The 1980s were known as the “me” years. We were encouraged to take care of ourselves by sharing in an economy that was supposed to make us all richer and give us a greater share in the wealth of our nation. A booming financial market, wider ownership of shares due to privatisation, champagne in the city and a “loads o’ money” culture ensued. For some. Yet we were all enticed by the philosophy of getting out there and grabbing what was ours.
The pundits of the ‘80s would have found it hard to make any sense of Jesus’s words in today’s gospel. They are counter-cultural: they fly in the face of the accepted standards of society. In fact, they say that to be a Christian is to put yourself not in the front line when it comes to receiving, but to stand in second place and allow those more needy than you to come forward.
What lies behind the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is the fact that none of us is a self-made man or woman. The world belongs to God not to the rich, and whatever skills and talents we might have are not the result of our own greatness but of God’s generosity.
Success is not measured by bank balances or public adulation, by civic honours and titles or by column inches in the national newspapers. Success is measured by our ability to espouse the values of God’s kingdom, values which do not draw attention to ourselves but point us in the direction of God.
People who are selfish, or self-absorbed, lack integrity. They lack integrity because humility is missing from their make-up. And humility does not mean that they pretend to be less than they are; it means that they acknowledge where their strengths come from.
Jesus urges us to go beyond the world’s definition of strength, success and happiness, for seen through the lens of eternity they are shallow. Instead, he invites us to rejoice in true poverty of spirit and boast of the values of the kingdom, which are our wisdom, our strength, our holiness and our freedom.