In the Sermon On The Mount Jesus lays down several foundational truths that most either miss, reinterpret, or ignore. This, of course, leads to much of the mess Christianity is in right now, and why so many resent the Church. I’m going to fix all this, right now – no worries…eh hem…
This chat on the hill is not a list of spiritual conditions to strive for. Despite what many scholars and philosophers have been saying for years, it’s not the ultimate guide for living.
No one can proudly boast, I’m poor in spirit so, “I’m in.” Rather, folks who are poor in spirit realize their need for salvation – for rescue. It’s a good start when approaching God’s Kingdom. And they are indeed invited in – that’s what Jesus was doing – laying out the Kingdom of God – inviting them in.
Another common mistake is that the Beatitudes are read in isolation – as a list. The story before and after gets little attention; yet, this is key to the foundational truths – thanks to Dallas Willard for point this out.
To clarify, let’s put the Sermon On The Mount into three scenes:
Scene 1: Jesus is walking around teaching his students (he was a Rabbi), healing people, and doing miracles. He was up close and personal – touching them, talking directly to them, spending time with them, eating with them (very unlike the Rabbis of his day). He made quite an impression because crowds swarmed to him – they wanted to see who this guy was. Jesus sees them all and climbs up a little hill.
Scene 2: He lists all the “blessed” statements in the context of inviting them into God’s Kingdom – remember his context is, “The time has come, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe.” He was saying, you who have suffered under the Roman empire, welcome to God’s empire. You that have been judged by the religious as unworthy, you’re worthy. Jesus flips the established order upside down and says you are the ones God wants. That’s why it’s Good News. To put this in a modern perspective, it would be like the current concentration of US wealth held by the 2% was suddenly handed to the 98%.
Scene 3: He then tells them they’re the salt and light of the world. In short, they’re going to rock this world! Just when they start thinking, Cool!, We’ve got the keys to the Kingdom!, he quickly adds , and this is critical, don’t be like the religious leaders. The religious establishment of his day tried to harness God with a list of rules, practices, and regulations – they ran off with the keys and missed the kingdom – similar to what some in the institution of Christianity has done in our day. It’s like a friend handing you his remote to watch the Superbowl on his 70″ flat screen, but you run out the door thinking it’ll work somewhere else.
But before they feel like there will be no joy, he introduces true joy. He goes on to tell them the mind set of someone living in God’s reality – God’s empire. It’s freedom from anger, contempt, judgment, hatred – all the things that rob us of our happiness and our full potential. This is more Good News – God’s new creation unfolding in front of our eyes – and we get to participate as agents of the empire of God.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson