The Teacher Begins

Scriptures: Matthew 5:1-12

Let us pray:

Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Turn our words into silent listening, that we might focus on you. Open our ears that we may hear your voice. Reveal not only your Word to us, but your very self, that your Holy Spirit might nourish our souls anew and guide us in the way everlasting. Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. In Western Christianity there have been countless commentaries on these, countless writings from classical times to contemporary times on this entire sermon where Jesus begins his teaching. Classical writers boiled down the sermon into a bi-directional trajectory: what has been called the “monastic trajectory,” based in Catholicism where purity is attained through cloistered focused communities; and the “theory of the impossible ideal” grounded in Western Protestants’ understanding of inherent sinfulness. Contemporary interpreters have two additional interpretive stances they have applied to the Beatitudes: social scientific interpretation and literary interpretation.

Our task today, using aspects of the above, is to consider just what, why, and how we might appropriate the teachings of Jesus in this first unveiling of the magnificent message of the Incarnate One.

“Jesus delivers the blessings to an audience of followers (his disciples and others) whose sociopolitical context is the Roman Empire and whose religious context is the elite Jewish establishment. What Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes critiques both contexts because of the groups upon whom these blessings are pronounced. In these blessings those who receive God’s favor are neither the privileged classes of the Roman Empire nor the elite Jewish establishment.

The Beatitudes are spoken to those groups whom God deems worthy, not by virtue of their own achievements or status in society, but because God chooses to be on the side of the weak, the forgotten, the despised, the justice seekers, the peace makers, and those persecuted because of their beliefs.”[1]

What do the Beatitudes teach us? Something which we need to hear just as much today in our contemporary context as the Jews needed in the Biblical times of the Roman Empire, namely that the political agenda of Jesus is:

“… organized around the pursuit of righteousness by those who are able—at potential risk to their own lives—for the sake of a world in which the unvalued (including they themselves when they are persecuted) are at last fully valued as human beings.”[2]

What we can also glean from this teaching is why such a message is the preface to the entire rest of the Sermon on the Mount. This opening set is the foundational context for any of those who choose to follow Jesus in that Roman world, and I would add anyone of us in our contemporary world. These are the blueprints, if you will, for being called into discipleship – commanding our character and placing us on the path pursuing righteousness grounded in God’s steadfast love, goodness, justice, and mercy. Anything less and all around us suffers, not to mention ourselves as well.

Yet reading the Beatitudes as commands for our way of living, we are afraid they challenge us beyond our means. Who can survive in a time when all around us we see blessings being given to those who succeed, often at the expense of others? The very fabric of our contemporary society is based in competition and fear. How can we live into the Beatitudes when they seem impossible idealistic statements for this time and place? Wiser minds than mine say:

“Living daily into the spirit of the Beatitudes involves looking at them as a collection of the whole, rather than looking at each one individually. Each is related to the others, and they build on one another. Those who are meek, meaning humble, are more likely to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they remain open to continued knowledge of God. If we approach the Beatitudes this way, we see they invite us into a way of being in the world that leads to particular practices. There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. These three principles allow us to be in the world, while not being totally shaped by it. [In effect,] we offer an alternative to what the world seems to be pursuing.”[3]

To understand these practices, place yourselves in a posture of listening to the words of Jesus and receiving them for the first time, without any prejudices or subjectivity from our time: Jesus says, in effect, simplicity is this: “You are blessed in this life whenever you demonstrate humility, bring a peaceful presence, open your heart to others, and show mercy on those who cry for it.”[4]

Hopefulness, then, is this: when we place our hope on Christ, who offered hope to the hopeless, it transforms the way we approach the world – with a spirit of hope, even when outward signs indicate otherwise, we become the positive countercultural role models, standing in the world as witnesses that the day will come when mercy, humility, peace, and love are the descriptions of what it means to live and to live fully.

In order to reach that state, we let God’s love for us and within us guide the practice of compassion. Compassion is not pity, nor is it sympathy. Compassion, as Henri Nouwen described it, “grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you….”[5] In my opinion, compassion is the very seat where loving kindness and understanding, implanted by our creator, begins to bloom in earnest.

To what end, you may ask? So we can grow as a blessed community, witnessing to the wider world in which we find ourselves-living into the higher standard to which we have been called as children of God, beloved of God, chosen by God, and adopted into God’s family through Christ. With this foundation, the Teaching begins.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Riggs, Marcia Y. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Tod Lindberg, “What the Beatitudes Teach,” Policy Review, no. 144 (Aug. and Sept. 2007) 16, as quoted by Marcia Riggs in Feasting on the Word – A, above.

[3] Cook, Charles James. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Ibid.

[5] Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands (New York: Ballantine, 1972), p. 86 as quoted by Charles James Cook in Feasting, above.

Questions for Reflection

How do we live in hope of a reality we cannot yet see or, at best, catch only fleeting glimpses? Where in your community’s life of prayer and service do you see instances of God’s justice, peace, and healing? Then give thanks, and ask God, Where am I being called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly into all blessedness in the ordinary course of my day?

Household Prayer: Morning

Blessed God, I yearn to see your vision of justice, love, and peace made real for me this day. Open my eyes to the way of love that I may see your brilliant light shining into the hidden places of my heart and the darkened corners of the world. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Loving God, you led me in the way of life this day and now call me to the way of rest. I give thanks for your light that illumined my path today. Now, it is night. As you beckon me to enter into holy darkness where I am one with you in your realm of uncreated light, I open to you in peace. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
This entry was posted in Conversation Starters, Inspiration, Sermon. Bookmark the permalink.

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