Monday, June 8, 2020

The Upside Down, A World Passing Away

Not long ago I took the plunge into one of the most popular Netflix series and not unlike others fell instantly in love with the adorable kids that are actually the lead characters of the series.  Add to that a plot and elements that are, to me at least, quintessentially intriguing and you have binge material.

In this story, the upside down world of monsters and mayhem starts breaking into the right-side up world that we live in.  It is simply terrifying to think about and would be more so if not for the adorable cast.

Here is the thing.  I believe the tale opens up for us the reality we are living in right now.  With one major catch.

The creators of Stranger Things have it all upside down.

The way I see it and the way most of the great teachers of the Christian Way (including it's founder) have presented our current situation is that we are currently living in the upside down.  Christ came to pull us into the right-side up.

Makes sense of the current situation of monsters and mayhem, yes?

Of course, yes.

Bishop Barron touched on it today in his Gospel homily on the beatitudes, that strange, seemingly upside down set of statements by our Lord Jesus.

MATTHEW 5:1-12

Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus goes up a mountain and sits down to teach. In the Old Testament, we find Moses, the great teacher, also going up a mountain to receive the Law, and then sitting down to teach it. However, Jesus is not receiving a law; he is giving one.

Theologian N.T. Wright has pointed out that the Old Testament is essentially an unfinished symphony. It is the articulation of a hope but without a realization of that hope. Thus, as the fulfillment of Israel’s entire story, Jesus begins his primary teaching with the Beatitudes, a title that stems from the Latin noun beātitūdō, meaning "happy" or "blessed."

Through this series of paradoxes, surprises, and reversals, Jesus begins setting a topsy-turvy universe aright. How should we understand them? A key is the Greek word makarios, rendered "blessed" or "happy" or perhaps even "lucky," which is used to start each of the Beatitudes.

And so, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." We might say, "How lucky you are if you are not addicted to material things." Here Jesus is telling us how to realize our deepest desire, which is the desire for God and not for passing things that only bring temporary comfort.

So how do we get into the right-side up other than just being lucky or blessed?

Fr. Jim (Priest at St. Thomas the Apostle here in Grand Rapids) commented in his homily today that many would try to take these words of Jesus and see them as a new set of prescriptions or commandments to set in front of us daily and commit to following them.  He made it quite clear that this is a mistaken notion.

Rather, these beatitudes are the fruits of being connected with Jesus.  In fact that is the "new law of Loving connection" that Jesus was teaching us.  If I am connected with Jesus, then even though I live in an upside down world, I will more and more be turned right-side up, for Christ our God is right-side up and he starts breathing His Spirit of Love into us and through us.

As I was watching the St. Thomas mass this morning with all the people wearing their masks because of the pandemic, it was a striking image to see those distributing the Precious Body of Christ wearing a mask like a surgeon - passing to us needy souls the medicine of immortality.  The medicine that draws us into the right-side up literally and spiritually, connecting us into the eternal right-side up Kingdom of God the Father.

I find great hope and comfort from this.  The Kingdom of God is breaking into the world both in the future AND now.  For now it is the eternal breaking into the temporal in a most subtle manner.  It is quite a covert operation and it is unstoppable.

I'll quote the prophet Tbone Burnett once more...

This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone, it is already gone.

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