Reading for Friday, June 15: Matthew 5
Now we turn to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ invitation into the Kingdom of God. In these powerful words, Jesus gives us insight into what a life of repentance looks like in light of God’s Kingdom presence (4:17). I hope you’ll find time to read over this sermon in depth over the next week…it really deserves so much more of a treatment than we can give it here in this limited space. (I’ve written extensively on this site about the Sermon on the Mount. If you’d like to read what I’ve written, click here and check out the Sermon on the Mount series I’m working on.)
Jesus begins with the Beatitudes and right off the bat, we have to clarify what’s going on here. In our individualistic society, we tend to compartmentalize readings like this; we think Jesus is addressing different people groups here, first the poor in spirit, then moving on to those who are mourning, then to the meek, etc. This kind of reading is dangerous because it’s an attempt to negate portions of the text that don’t really apply to me. “You know, I’m not a particularly peaceful person, so Jesus must be talking to somebody else here.” So we look for the one we can latch on to and that becomes “our” Beatitude. (We do the same thing with the fruit of the Spirit, talking about them as individual “fruits” rather than recognizing that they represent the collective work of God’s Spirit in the life of the believer.)
We also tend to do something else with the Beatitudes. We internalize them, claiming that Jesus is giving us a description of the “attitudes” that are befitting the Kingdom of God. But a “beatitude” has nothing to do with one’s “attitude” or “disposition” — it is a reorientation of one’s entire being, a recognition of one’s position of blessing even amid life’s difficulties. This is why Jesus is able to speak of the blessings of God toward those who mourn or those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He has much more in mind than simply our “attitudes” — as if Jesus came to earth in order to make us “nice”. Hardly. He came to give us life.
I believe what Jesus is doing is addressing the progressive nature of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God only comes to those who are first able to humble themselves, acknowledging their own fallibility. These “poor in spirit” certainly contrast with the perceived notions of spirituality in Jesus’ day, particularly our understanding of the Pharisees and their predilection for showmanship piety. The Kingdom is reserved for the poor in spirit, these who humbly receive what God mediates to them through Christ.
Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount is a transformative experience for those who would so humble themselves. The life of blessing is recognized in a variety of ways. God’s mission for His people is explained in metaphor: He wills that we should be salt (5:13) — distinct, counter-cultural — and light (5:14) — illuminating our dark world with God’s gracious promises. The Kingdom is found in obedience to God’s Word — “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them, (5:17). The way of the Kingdom is to experience transformation in relationship: we relinquish our anger (5:21ff) and lust (5:27ff) in service to a higher calling. We understand marriage as an expression of God’s covenantal love, therefore a holy and sacred relationship (5:31ff). Our impulses to swear, take oaths, and retaliate are all governed by a new identity, an identity rooted in the eternal love of God. Everything gets turned on its head by these words of Jesus. Our lives are never the same. In short, we are transformed. And these words aim at no other outcome.