Augustine of Hippo: We are God’s beggars

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Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. Mark 10:46-52

“So we have said who we must ask for things from, who we are that must do the asking, what we must ask for. But we too are asked for things. We are God’s beggars, remember; for him to take notice of his beggars, we in our turn must take notice of ours. In this case too we should consider, when we are asked for something, who they are that are doing the asking, from whom they are asking for it, what they are asking for. Who are doing the asking? Human beings. From whom are they asking for it? From human beings. Who are doing the asking? Mortals. From whom are they asking for it. From mortals. Who are doing the asking? Fragile creatures. From who are they asking for it? From fragile creatures. Who are doing the asking? Poor wretches. From who are they asking for it? From poor wretches.

Apart from the extent of their assets, those who are doing the asking are exactly like those who are being asked. How can you have the face to ask your God for something, if you do not take notice of your equal? “I’m not like him,” he says, “heaven preseve me from being like him!” Some puffed-up poodle swatched in silk speaks like that about the fellow in rags. But I’m asking questions about you both when you are naked. I’m not asking what you are like in your clothes, but what you were like when you were born. You were both naked, both feeble, both beginning a miserable life, and so both crying.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 61.8, excerpt entitled, “We are God’s beggars,” in Essential Sermons, edited by Daniel Doyle and translated by Edmund Hill (New York: New City Press) 99.

We’ve shifted from the Apostolic Fathers to the Church Fathers and will start with the Doctors of the Western Church. Augustine of Hippo, whose sermons rank among my favorite of all time, offers us this insight today in Sermon 61.

We are God’s beggars. How does this statement resonate with you? What stirs within you? Augustine, as is his custom, uses shocking language to get our attention and to grasp what is true about ourselves and God.

As we venture into Lent, let’s join Bartimaeus and take the humble posture of a beggar today. Remember this: We are God’s beggars. And when people seek help from us, we must see ourselves as equals and hear them as Christ did.

Jesus calls to the one who cries out for mercy. That’s what the whole world needs, what every person needs, what you and I need. We are human beings, mortals, fragile creatures, and poor wretches. Our lives are but a vapor and gone.

What do each of us need every minute of every day? It’s not justice. Those who call for justice seek the wrong thing. Why don’t we see a call for justice in the New Testament? If we got justice from God, we’d all get a sentence of death.

Instead, what does the world need for hope and healing? Mercy. Jesus say that those who extend mercy will receive it (Matthew 5:7). Remember we are God’s beggars. And there’s bad news for those who don’t extend mercy and forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

This Lent, before we ask anything of God, let us together make sure we are extending whatever we seek to those who call for help from us. Let us aid others and then ask God for aid. Extend mercy and then call for it. We are God’s beggars.