When one of life’s nasty storms rolls in, where should someone go for safe cover?
That thought has been on my mind lately, as it seems I’m getting prayer requests with alarming regularity. So many people I know seem to be struggling in life. Their struggles are profound enough that they are reaching out, asking for help. Sometimes, they ask in desperation.
Their illnesses and predicaments remind me of a stormy scene described in three of the four Gospels. Jesus and his disciples were boating across the Sea of Galilee, which is known for sudden storms. A “violent storm came upon the sea,” Matthew wrote, while Jesus was sleeping on a cushion. As huge waves crashed against the vessel, filling it with water, his disciples freaked out. “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
In that moment, those men lost any illusions of self-sufficiency and confidence in their own abilities to handle such a crisis. So they jumped into their “bathtub.” They called upon Jesus.
In that moment, those men learned the real meaning of being “poor in spirit.” They had become, to use a Hebrew term, the “ANAWIM.”
We heard about the ANAWIM January 29 at Mass. The Gospel on that Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time came from the fifth chapter of Matthew — the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount — and the Church scheduled the rest of that chapter for the three following Sundays. Our hearing of Chapter 5 will conclude this coming weekend, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The fifth chapter contains 48 verses — 46 of them quoting Jesus, commencing with Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In the final verse, we will hear his words: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” From the first to the last, including everything in between, I think we hear about the ANAWIM.
Many Biblical scholars feel the Aramaic word Jesus used for “poor in spirit” was “INWETAN”*; the equivalent of the Hebrew word was ANAWIM. Used frequently in the Old Testament, they were the poor people, but over time it came to describe more a condition and attitude than a socio-economic status. It has been said that poor people can be found the world over, but not all poor people are ANAWIM.
They are the needy, the lowly, the oppressed. They are a completely helpless people, depending on God for His mercy and, well, for everything.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that to gain the kingdom of heaven, we must depend upon God for everything, we must be poor in spirit. We must be meek, merciful and pure of heart. We must be salt of the earth and light of the world. We must obey and teach the commandments. We must reconcile with our brothers and sisters. We must give more than asked to give. We must turn the other cheek and love our enemies. To attain heaven, we must seek to match our heavenly Father’s perfection. As the teaching of Jesus Christ unfolds, that means to love as God loves. That means loving God foremost, depending upon Him alone. Hence, life has storms. Thank God.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as he did our ancestors. . . . He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them” (Judith 8:25,27).
During the afternoon of January 21, a series of heavily damaging tornadoes ripped through a large part of the southern United States. One of those twisters, categorized as EF-2, roared through Marion County in eastern Texas. It featured peak winds of 130 mph, measured 800 yards at its maximum width and traveled more than 13 miles on the ground.
A few days later, the National Weather Service issued a report that included this:
“Numerous power lines were also downed along the storm`s path. . . . The tornado moved several vehicles and deposited a party barge boat 200 yards into a grove of trees. Trees were downed on several homes and also flipped over a travel trailer. The tornado continued in a northeast direction, crossing County Road 3300, at which point it removed the roof of a home. A woman inside took shelter in a bathtub, and the tornado lifted the tub out of the home and deposited it in the woods with the woman still in the tub but the woman was not injured.”
Amazing, right? Storms come upon us all the time. Just because we are relatively helpless against their power, that doesn’t mean we must concede
My friend Lisa has lupus and is on kidney dialysis. My son’s friends Moses and Grace recently and suddenly lost their 2-year-old son to an unexpected illness. A motorcycle-car collision this week put two young men in a nearby parish into an intensive-care unit. My mother-in-law displays symptoms of dementia, and my 80-year-old father-in-law cares for her. Friend Val suffers severe migraines. My wife’s friend Cindy has a rare disorder that brings a dire prognosis.
Every day for the last 15 years, I have waged a frustrating battle against major clinical depression. Along the way I have met many men and women who are burdened by mental illness as well. The desperation sometimes boils over. I have heard from quite a few of them just in the last couple of weeks.
These storms have a purpose, though. They wipe away our illusions of self-sufficiency. They transform us into the poor of spirit, the anawim.
In my experience, our safest place of shelter, our greatest chance of calming the storm, is Jesus Christ.