Tumbling in the Sand
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went … and taught … saying: Blessed are …” – Matthew 5:1-3ish
Dorothy Day, a woman who was instrumental in starting the Catholic worker movement and someone who worked tirelessly for justice and for the poor most of her adult life, was once called a “saint.” Her response? “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
We have a tendency to make saints into special people. We think of them as extra holy, extra close to God, extra good. And when we do that, we put all the stuff that they do in that special category too. Saints give themselves to the work of justice. Saints care about the poor. Saints heal the sick. Saints go to work with lepers in Calcutta. Saints pray to God and fast and struggle with questions of faith. Saints speak against oppressive power. Saints do that stuff. And well, since saints are special people and they do that stuff, we figure us normal people don’t do that stuff.
And that’s what Dorothy Day was talking about. By calling her a saint, we risk actually believing that what she did, we can’t do too and that what she believed and spoke out about, we can’t care about as well. Also, it’s too easy to sanitize saints, forgetting that they were real people with real struggles and real failures. We forget that their practices of faith and sacrifice did not come from some super-holy space, some idealized reality distant and not applicable to our own. We forget that these saints struggled with the same things that we do and that they were, in fact, flawed humans who found in the midst of their messiness, their brokenness, God was there—right there—with them. And in the middle of that brokenness, in the middle of their humanness, in the middle of their every day lives, God’s love touched and healed them in ways that amazed them, in ways that lead them to reach out and change the world (and it sure wasn’t easy or glamorous or anything but normal and messy and day to day).
On All Saints day, we Protestants tend to remember not so much special saints, but we remember that we are all called saints—that God, in fact chose to call us holy, blessed, saints even before we were—even though we aren’t. We are actually a lot like the crowd that Jesus finds himself in the middle of: crippled, crazy, sick, broken, seeking, poor, curious, distracted, confused, unsure. And Jesus looks out at us and says “Blessed.” “You, even though you be poor, you are blessed. Even though you are weak, you are blessed. Even though you can’t get your act together, you are blessed. Even though you are no saint, you are a saint: blessed, chosen, loved.”
And that naming is healing, as Jesus even reaches out to the crowds to touch and heal one by one. You are a saint—holy—in the sight of God. But, it’s also a calling. Because you see: Saints give themselves to the work of justice. Saints care about the poor. Saints heal the sick. Saints go to work with lepers in Calcutta. Saints pray to God and fast and struggle with questions of faith. Saints speak against oppressive power. Saints do that stuff. So, rise up, O Saint of God! Live your life knowing that God is reaching out to heal you and to heal the world through you.