Fr Ichabod

A reflection for January 29th.

Matthew’s beatitudes are a well-known classic. Luke also has a shorter version of the Beatitudes.

The beatitudes have rightly been called “God’s blueprint for living” and each of Matthews 8 is a sermon in and of itself. So today I thought I would just focus on this one.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

To help us along I found this little parable which I hope might be useful.

Once upon a time, in a sandy desert in Egypt, there was a young monk who had done something dastardly and devious. The leaders were applied and with howls of self-righteous condemnation called a meeting to condemn the brother. They even invited the senior cleric Father Ichabod to come and join in.

At first, Father Ichabod refused the invitation, for he had a full day of basket weaving in front of him. But they sent an envoy to persuade him with the message that the assembly was awaiting his arrival. So Father Ichabod put aside the basket he was weaving, got up and set out toward the gathering. First, however, he grabbed one of the other baskets he had made and filled it with sand.

Now the basket the good Father chose had a hole in it so that the sand slowly leaked out behind him as he journeyed on. When he arrived at the meeting room, the other leaders came out to meet him. Seeing Father Ichabod holding the still-leaking basket; They smirked to themselves and wondered whether Fr. Ichabod had lost his clear-thinking abilities. Then they inquired into the meaning of this bizarre sight.

Fr. Ichabod replied, “The grains of sand are my sins which are running out behind me. I do not see them, and yet you have asked me to come and judge the fault of another.” When the excited motley crew heard this they forgave the brother and set him free, saying nothing further of the fault.

In this story, Fr. Ichabod exemplifies a person who is “poor in spirit” and he does so through his words and his actions. When he first receives the invitation to come and join in the judgment of the younger monk, he has a choice to make.

On the one hand, he is an elder monk and his condemnation has been personally requested. The facts of the case are not in dispute: The young brother’s guilt is apparently evident. It would seem The good Father is justified in passing his own judgment.

On the other hand, something prevents him from following this path of condemnation and what prevents Him is the awareness of his own faults and failures. Fr. Ichabod understands that to act as a self-assured and self-sufficient judge would be hypocritical when at the same time he is painfully aware of his own foibles. It would be dishonest and absurd of him to play the role of judge.

He dramatically illustrates the absurdity of this by means of the basket leaking sand. In God’s eyes, it is just as absurd to pass judgment on his brother given his own personal faults, as it is to carry a leaking basket.

The crucial point of the story then is not so much that Fr. Ichabod is poor in spirit, but rather that he acknowledges and lives out of his poverty of spirit. He doesn’t try to hide his fragility and dependence on God’s mercy and love. He empties himself, like the leaky bucket, of all ego and self-assertion. This is a blessing not only to himself but to  everyone around him

This is the blessing the poor in spirit shower upon us. Only those who recognise their poverty have the capacity to reach out and seize the blessing God offers them. Then we can live not out of their own poor spirit, our own endeavours and struggles, but rather to be filled with the spirit of God Himself

When we recognise our emptiness and choose to receive God’s spirit, we open up a space for the breaking in of the kingdom of God, which Jesus Christ brought to us at Christmas and continues to bring to us each and every day.

This interruption of God’s kingdom into our disorderly lives occurs through people like Fr. Ichabod. His humility transforms the lives of all the other characters in the story. The other elders are moved to forgiveness. The younger monk receives forgiveness and a taste of the mercy of God.

Through Fr. Ichabod, though merely one man poor in spirit, the kingdom of God enters into the tired world of faults and denouncements and makes everything new with the sweetness of divine grace, peace and mercy.

This first beatitude, the blessing of those who are self-emptied and the promise of the kingdom of God entering the world through them, is the way of Christian living. It is the way of the Incarnation. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of the saints. And it is our way too if we will it. Micah had it right in our first lesson today and we should let him have the last word. Do justice,…  love mercy…Walk humbly with your God.

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