I have a deep appreciation of art works where there’s a character at the edge of the picture, or partially obscured by shadow. It’s the character at whom the artist hints, who catches our eye if we look the right way.
I first noticed him (her?) In Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, in the left side, towards the back. Some have argued that Rembrandt placed himself in the work, but only just. Others have said it can be each of us, and still others believe we’re overthinking it, and it’s simply one of the witnesses not mentioned in Jesus’ parable. I’m not so sure. Some prints have the character so vaguely defined she barely exists at all.
I have an image of The Last Supper, by Sieger Köder, opposite me as I write, with a shadowed, shadowy figure, heading for the door as Jesus blesses the wine bearing his own reflection and breaks the bread. Is it Judas? Is it me?
These sorts of unnamed, un-faced characters are deliberately remembered in the gospel, as both Jesus and Paul remind us.
The poor in spirit, the meek, those who weep, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the merciful, those who seek justice and those who are persecuted and slandered are not only included in the story of Jesus, they are blessed.
Those our community ignores, or discards as inconvenient or troublemakers are blessed!
Those we decry as nothing are everything in the eyes of God.
Paul, rejoicing in the paradox of the cross, amplifies it for us. Wealth, power, wisdom and inheritance are as nothing to the foolishness of God in Jesus.
God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
The “things that are not” are chosen by God. Perhaps Paul’s poetic best? No, this is Paul’s prophetic best, as we discover that those who are told by family, or partner, or parent, or culture, or teacher, or church, that they are nothing, are in fact worthy of God’s everything.
Despite our best attempts to ignore them, or paint them out of the picture entirely, in Jesus the unnamed discover their names, the lost are found.
Our inherent struggle is that the Beatitudes are amongst the most quoted of all Jesus’ words and we live in world which consistently seeks to belie them.
No wonder Paul calls the plan of God madness and a scandal – everything we believe and are told is turned upside down when we name the Crucified One as Lord of history.
We always have a place, and welcome others in our turn. And not just a place, a blessing and a name. Perhaps this wonder is the most profound, God doesn’t just permit, or tolerate our presence, God rejoices and bestows blessing – the ones who are least are already the first in the reign of God.