I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) again this morning while enjoying the peacefulness of a good cup of coffee, a quiet house, and a beautiful view of the mountains on a crisp, clear morning. For many years, this passage felt like a heavy list of commandments that didn’t fit too well in what I thought the New Testament (and Christianity) should be all about. But as the years have passed, my appreciation for these words and the picture of life that they paint has continued growing.
I suppose I’m not really a young man anymore. I’m less interested in conquering the world than I used to be, but I want more than ever before to love my wife and boys well. And I want to be faithful to God more than ever, though I’m still having to discover exactly what that looks like in every day life.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him (Matthew 5:1)
I love the way this passage opens, because I know I’m somewhere out in that audience. In the midst of things, Jesus looked up. He saw a mass of people wandering around behind him. He saw people who were searching and curious and broken and desperate. He saw the eager and ambitious. He saw the skeptical and the hardened. He saw lots and lots of people doing the best they knew to do who were working very hard to get by and to provide a good life for their loved ones. He saw people trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was and what that meant for them.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…
I love these words because they are so hopeful in the stride of normal life. From the typical perspective, no one wants to be poor in spirit – downtrodden, worn out, beaten down. Normally, the meek are overlooked and cast aside. Normally, the merciful are taken advantage of and the peacemakers scorned. Normally, the loud and powerful and wealthy and ambitious get ahead by exerting their considerable influence and by their willingness to do what is needed.
But Jesus saw things a different way. And while the world is still busy scrambling to get the proverbial piece of the the pie, Jesus’ words remind us that there is a bigger story unfolding in which we’ll all one day take our places.
God created this whole thing. The heavens. The earth. Everything. In his mysterious, beautiful love and wisdom, he decided to give humanity a significant role in the story. And when it all wraps up and transitions into the next phase of things, everything will be restored under God’s reign. All of Creation will be his “kingdom” once again and it will reflect his original intentions. He’ll sort things out with a wisdom that, as far as I can tell, is far beyond anything we can grasp here and now.
So in the meantime, as most of us live extraordinarily ordinary lives, we can rest in Jesus’ words. The downtrodden and mourning, the meek and merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and all those who have been overrun in their humble efforts to follow Jesus will not be discounted or overlooked in the end.
So let us all be faithful with what God has given us while not worrying too much about what he has not. Love those well God has put in your life. Thoughtfully consider how you can use the time, energy, and resources God has given you to be a blessing to others and to reflect God’s likeness and to make God known wherever you are.