I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship.
- Louisa May Alcott
Yesterday afternoon I spent my time judging in the Kansas High school state forensic tournament. In the final round I was one of three judges responsible for deciding who would be the state champion in the “Informative Speech” category. There were six participants, and each one was absolutely wonderful.
One of the things that judges in these types of competitions are told is that the judge is to always keep in mind that the exercise, while competitive in nature, is to be first and foremost a learning experience. I suspect most of us who do the judging make the assumption that it is the student/participant who is to do the learning. After judging the finals of the “Informative” category I found that the admonition also applied to the judges. Permit me to explain.
While all the participants made wonderful presentations, there was one that has, and will for some time, stay with me. In less than seven minutes, a young student named Paula (participant number 18A), taught me an incredibly valuable lesson in seeing the value of things we most often don’t consider to be valuable at all. It was the lesson of the dandelion, or as she titled her presentation, “The Dandy Lion.”
Each spring I spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying, like millions of other Americans, to do away with this pesky “weed.” I spend hours either pulling or spraying, and for the most part my work is effective. But, the dandelion is a hearty “weed.” No matter how much I spray or pull, one or two or three or ten or fifty or so always manage to spring up from the cracks in my chemical defenses. It’s as if they have a will to overcome, to survive the onslaught of humanity.
Yesterday, however, I learned that the dandelion is hardly the useless “weed” that Ortho and the other chemical companies would have us believe it to be. I learned, for example, that the dandelion is actually in the sunflower family, and that it came to America as a transplant from Europe. No, it didn’t get here by having the people of Europe blow the seeds borne in the feathery white of the early spring dandelion. It was brought here by early settlers, very deliberately, because of its curative powers. It seems that, back in those primitive times, the dandelion was known to be a diuretic and an antibiotic. As early as the fifteenth century, the Europeans and the Chinese used dandelion as a blood cleanser. So much for the dandelion being nothing more than a noxious weed.
Today, the dandelion is used for many of the same reasons. It has curative powers for not only bacterial, but also viral infections. It’s rich in vitamins A, B, D, and G, and we use it in wine, tea, or salads. Modern medicine is also discovering that it is also useful in the lowering cholesterol. Even more amazing, some of its properties are now being used in the treatment of liver problems and even some forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer.
As I think about it now, I’m somewhat startled to think that I spend as much time and money destroying dandelions as I do. Why? The only reason I can think of is that it pops up where I don’t want it; usually in the middle of a lawn I’ve worked to keep meticulously green, a emblem to my neighbors of my diligence and hard work.
But, there was more to the lesson that participant 18A brought yesterday. This morning at church I spent some time considering Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. Most reading this post know them, even those who don’t consider themselves people of faith or belief. The reason they are so well known is that they’re timeless, filled with what Jesus called “blessings.” There are nine of them outlined in the fifth chapter of Matthew:
Matthew 5:3-11 (King James Version)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”
As I considered those words I began to see the parallel to the lesson of the dandelion I’d learned yesterday. Sometimes, the things that are meant for our benefit and healing are the things we desperately try to kill. More often than we should, we consider the things Jesus defined as blessings to be dandelions. We read and consider the words and they seem so upside down to us. After all, what’s so great about being persecuted or mourning? What’s possible value can there be in meekness? I mean, aren’t prospective employers looking for “aggressive self-starters?” And, they’re not looking for people who consider poverty, in any form, a virtue. They’re looking for people who are motivated by money, aren’t they? Some blessings, eh?
Yet, this is exactly what Jesus called them. And, with each blessing there is a promise. For those who mourn, there will be comfort. For the poor in spirit and the persecuted, there is the kingdom of heaven. For those who are merciful, they will obtain mercy in return. The hungry and thirsty will be filled. The pure in heart will see God; the peacemakers will be called the children of God.
Why is it, then, we spend so much time and effort trying to avoid the very things Jesus said are meant for our benefit? Why is it that we spend so much time fending off these blessings? Some of us who are Pentecostals, in our vibrant, lively settings, rebuke them. Some of us who are from more contemplative Christian backgrounds have assigned them to memory, but we’ve found more intellectual ways to fend them off. We consider them for a fleeting moment, but the reality of life “as it is takes over” and we toss them aside or rip them from our consideration like the dandelions that try to despoil the perfection of our lawns and lives. Some of us don’t consider them at all. We all may have different approaches, but the net effect is the same. In the same way we kill the dandelions that spoil the rich green lawns we’ve spent endless hours on, we kill out the blessings Jesus outlined with weed killers of our own making.
Contestant 18A shared a valuable lesson yesterday. The things we often think have little or no benefit to us are often the things that are more beneficial than we can imagine. So it is with the “blessings” Jesus offers us in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s adversity, difficulty, and trial that are the true paths to blessing in our lives.
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The Sermon on the Mount