Today is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom in the Roman Catholic Church. At my neighborhood mass this morning, the priest described Luke 6:20-26 as the beatitudes of Chrysostom, since he was a pretty ruthless prophet against the excesses of the rich. Whereas the Matthew 5 beatitudes tend to be hopeful and encouraging, Luke 6:20-26 contains three blessings and three curses that have an apocalyptic feel to them.
In particular, I’m drawn to the curse against those who are “filled.” The most straightforward reading of the passage is what Woody Guthrie would call “Pie in the sky.” People who are poor, hungry, and sad now will be rich, full, and laughing later, while people who are rich, full, and laughing now will be poor, hungry, and sad later. But I see a deeper spiritual meaning in the woe against those who are “filled.”
I do ministry in a world of college students where there is no space for hunger or emptiness of any kind. Every empty space is filled with study, exercise at the gym, extra-curricular organizations, and partying. Feeling any kind of emptiness or lack is unacceptable and must be resolved and medicated immediately.
I’ve come to the realization that I can’t really work with students who are “filled.” It doesn’t matter whether they grew up United Methodist or not. They might have been the president of their statewide youth organization. They might be very generous, beautiful people. But if they’re already “filled,” then they don’t have room for anything I would have to offer them.
What I’ve found actually is that perfectly well-adjusted, hard-working United Methodist students who know exactly what they’re doing with their lives are extremely unlikely to become a part of our campus ministry. We have a handful of students like that in NOLA Wesley, and they’re wonderful human beings whom I love dearly. But currently at Tulane, I know of three students who went to Houston’s Woodlands UMC, Dallas’s Highland Park UMC, and Adam Hamilton’s Church of Resurrection, three of the largest, wealthiest megachurches in United Methodism, and none of them have time for us. And it’s not because they’re more conservative than we are. I’ve had conversations with all of them and their understandings of the gospel and the Bible are far more liberal than mine. They just don’t need anything we’re offering.I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a really nice guy who felt bad when he saw me tabling with my free donut holes on an unusually cold day two years ago and offered to buy me a cup of coffee. It turns out he was the son of a United Methodist pastor from Arkansas, but he really didn’t want to have anything to do with church and he had all the friends and support systems he needed. People who have everything they need don’t need God. It’s like Jesus said. He didn’t come for the righteous, the well-adjusted, the perfectly satisfied. He came for the people who would be lost without him.
The most reliable group of people I am currently in community with are my brothers and sisters in recovery. I know that when I go to a recovery meeting, they will be there, no matter how long their to-do lists are and how far behind they are on their homework. Because they’re not “filled.” They’re thirsty, and they know that unless they seek God to fulfill their thirst, they will drink poison.
So I’ve been praying hard that God will send us students who are thirsty. I don’t have any problems with ones who aren’t. Sometimes we have really fascinating conversations. But I want the ones who have found that they can’t do this whole life thing on their own. Because I sure as hell can’t. Those are the ones to whom I can relate and for whom I might have something to offer. I want the ones who aren’t filled and need God to make it.
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