More than a decade ago, I did an interview in Belfast for a local radio station. I was the interviewer and the guest was an American visitor who was in Northern Ireland to talk about his work with poor and marginalised people.
We all know we shouldn’t stereotype people by their nationality, but in my mind I was expecting a larger than life figure to come bouncing into the studio and to greet everyone with a big smile and tell us all how charming and cute everything was.
My stereotype was shattered by the gentle, softly spoken dark-haired man in a polo neck sweater who was ushered in. It was fairly late in the evening, probably after nine, and he had fulfilled a whole day of engagements and I guessed the last thing he wanted at the end of the day was to sit in a studio for an interview for a radio station of which he had never heard.
He spoke graciously and with a serious and firm conviction of his work with the Sojourners Community. The interview lasted about five minutes and at the end he smiled and said ‘thank you’.
Reflecting on the experience afterwards, I thought that perhaps this is how Jesus would have been; this quiet and gentle man was living out the sort of life that Jesus expected from his followers when he shared what we call the Beatitudes with the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount in Saint Matthew’s Gospel
‘Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God’.
Over the years I have seen the man’s name appear at various times, his championing of the cause of peace and justice bringing him into the headlines. He published a new book last summer that was reviewed by the Irish Times; I tried in various Dublin booksellers to obtain a copy, but was told it would have to be ordered from the United States.
The book was finally published on this side of the Atlantic yesterday. It carries the endorsement of the British Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the author has appeared on radio and television on BBC’s Today and Newsnight programmes.
Talking on the BBC, with an international platform, Jim Wallis, now grey, but still gentle and smiling, is, for me, the man of the Beatitudes; his book is called, appropriately, God’s Politics.