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Landscape of longing

Landscape of longing

Is this a mark of a disciple?

As I traipse across this empty field, I have high hopes. It’s rare to find an unexplored park so close to my home. I don’t know what to expect, especially at this bleak time of year. Tiny pellets of ice collect between tufts of grass but the ground, recently drenched by cold rain, has but a thin frozen layer over the squelching mud.

It’s not promising. But I have come straight from my devotional time, where I spent another morning digging into the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-10. As I walk, I pray that God will speak to me through this somber field.

First, some thoughts on the Beatitudes. My commentary instructs me that they are not meant for the world at large, but for the disciples who have gathered around Jesus. In this list, he gives an overview of the character of his followers.

What a description! Taking just the first part of each – and factoring in the context I learned – it paints a picture of people in a state of need: giving, aching, longing, working. They feel empty before God. They grieve for the brokenness of the world and strive to bring reconciliation. They long deeply for him with a single-minded focus.

And the world derides them for it.

As I reach the woods, the path becomes messier. The mud is so bad here, someone has put a board in the path to help. It doesn’t. But the muckiness of the ground connects me to this image Jesus sketches of his disciple.

Living in this world is messy. The more we understand of his coming Kingdom, the more we recognize how far we, and the world, are from it. In response, we’re filled with a kind of draining ache.

Then Jesus goes on to speak of the reward.  One way to understand “Blessed are…” is “Congratulations!” Do you feel empty?  Congratulations! For you will be filled! Each attribute listed is a precondition for receiving the corresponding reward.

Reward is a tricky word.  It’s not that we earn what’s coming. We don’t mourn (Matt. 5:4) so that we can receive comfort. That’s not discipleship, that’s manipulation. But as we follow Jesus, we take on his compassion and longing. Out of grace, he then fills us with more of him.

As I stand, contemplating this, the sun comes out. The contrast is startling. Before, I felt a bit invisible, as if absorbed by the winter landscape. As if the world around me was everything. Disciples of Jesus, looking at a sin-twisted world through his eyes of compassion, can feel – maybe, according to the Beatitudes, should feel – overwhelmed by the need.

But the sun breaks through and suddenly there’s my shadow. I exist! Child of God, follower of Jesus, seen by the Almighty -- who comes to dry tears, grant mercy, give permanence, and invite into his presence.

Longing may be a distinctive trait of following Jesus.

But it’s only to heighten the contrast of the blessing to come.

Jesus, thank you for your portrayal of disciples who feel empty before a needy world. You remind us that we, too, are desperately needy before you.  And that you promise to fill every hollow space with your presence.

Reader: Which of the Beatitudes speaks to you in this time of your life?  Feel free to email me with your thoughts.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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