Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sermon on the Mount: The Blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)

Being a Christian—a witness to the one unconventional god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality—is the hardest way of living we can choose. To better understand what living as a Christian means, we will reflect today on some words of Jesus taken from the Gospel according to Matthew. In Matthew, chapters 5-7 are referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” because, before he spoke the words written there, Matthew tells us Jesus went up the mountain (Matthew 5:1, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

In today's passage, Jesus identifies four different ways in which we may be blessed. To be blessed means to be highly favored by God and to be truly joyful in heart. As we shall see, Jesus has some very strange ideas about just who is blessed.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3).
To understand the meaning of poor in spirit rightly, let us note that, in Luke's version of this same statement (Luke 6:20), Jesus says “Blessed are you who are poor...” To be poor, in a limited sense, means to lack money. It means to be marginal in relation to Pluto god of money. To be poor, in a broader sense, means to be marginal in relation to the other Olympian gods as well. It means to be marginal in terms of politics, war, technology, sex, and consumption as well as money. In Luke, Jesus makes the statement that we are highly favored by Abba and truly joyful in heart if we are marginal in relation to the six conventional gods of power. In Matthew, Jesus says we are blessed if we are poor in spirit: if, in addition to being marginal in reality, we also want to be that way because we want to devote ourselves to God rather than the gods.

Jesus tells us that, if we embrace marginality in reality and in truth, we get to participate in his kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is present wherever Jesus is present. We participate with him in his kingdom whenever we witness to his freedom, truth, love, and vitality. If we do that with any consistency at all, we will most certainly be marginal—in reality and in truth—in relation to the six conventional gods, the society and culture we live in which is based upon them, and the vast majority of people we live with because they are devoted to them.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v. 4).
We live in Olympia: a place where we have six conventional gods, a society and culture informed by them, and most everyone conforming to them. That means we live amidst power instead of freedom; lies and illusions instead of truth; indifference and violence instead of love; and despair, destruction, and death instead of vitality. Jesus invites us to mourn; that is, to be bothered by it all.

If we are, then we will not need to seek comfort in Olympian distractions such as TV shows or computer games through devotion to Vulcan, sexual stimulation through devotion to Venus, gambling through devotion to Pluto, or eating and drinking through devotion to Bacchus. Instead, we will be comforted by Jesus whose Holy Spirit, burning brightly in our Christian hearts, will bless us with such fruits as love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22).

3. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (v. 5).
The word here translated as “meek” may also mean “gentle” or “humble.” The opposite of humble is arrogant or self-centered. When we devote ourselves to the gods, we always seek to advance in rank relative to other people. We treat others as means to that end. When we are humble, we seek to witness as clearly as possible to Jesus. We seek to discern how we may speak and act in ways that allow us to best share the light, love, and life of Jesus with others.

Jesus tells us that, if we are humble, we will inherit the earth. Certainly this will happen in the age to come when Jesus returns in glory and definitively establishes his kingdom here on earth. Yet it happens even now wherever he creates space, amidst any Olympian kingdom, for Christians and churches to exist.

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (v. 5).
“Righteousness” means rightly ordered in relation to Jesus, one another, the rest of creation, and within ourselves. Jesus tells us we are highly favored and truly joyful when we have a sense of urgency about getting that done. Getting that done means strengthening our devotion to Jesus, communion with fellow Christians, courtesy toward other people, care for creation, and development of our Christian personality.

Righteousness includes justice. Justice is the right ordering of relationships between individuals and groups in society. Laws are just when conformity to them creates this right ordering. They are unjust, and our society grows structurally disordered, when conformity to them discourages or destroys this right ordering.

Jesus tells us that, if we seek this strengthening of rightly-ordered relationships with some Spirit-led sense of urgency, we will see it happen.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.