In Matthews’s gospel Jesus’ opening message
of open your eyes because the kingdom of heaven has come near is followed by
what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount which explains what we need to be
looking for, what this new way of being is all about. I invite you to go home, take twenty minutes,
get out your Bible and read chapters five to seven of Matthews’s gospel. Just three chapters or 111 verses- 16 verses
a day over a week! If you read no other
Bible passage in the next few months give this a go. It’s full of practical teaching and even if
you are an absolute saint there will be something here that you can learn that
will make your life better.
These three chapters, are called the Sermon
on the Mount because Matthew has gathered up a collection of Jesus’ teaching
that happened in the hills around Lake Galilee. They are teachings for disciples of Jesus,
teachings that should shape our lives.
They describes the priorities, character, and values of this new age
that Jesus came to inaugurate. I see
them as a team talk, teaching for the core group. They have to do with money,
possessions, power, violence, sexuality, anxiety, security, the way we treat
our neighbour, and the way we treat those we don’t like. At the core of these teachings is the idea
that living a good life is not just about living by rules and imposing some
sort of religious straight jacket on us, but about getting our inner life on
the right track. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear so the old saying
goes. If fear and ego are alive within us
then violence and greed are going to be inevitable consequences. The new earth Jesus proclaimed happens from
the inside out – you have to attend to
what drives us inside.
We are told to live simply and without hypocrisy. We are told to trust God for our
security. We are instructed to love our enemies
and not to return evil for evil. We are
told to treat every person with dignity and respect, and to be very careful
about diminishing the value of another. For
example most of us do not think of ourselves as murderers but Jesus tells us we
murder someone when we put them down or call them worthless. For most of us controlling our physical
actions is the easy part but transforming the inner working of our thoughts and
our hearts is a harder thing. We are to
turn the other cheek when attacked in some way and go the extra mile when
prevailed upon. I need to say this is
not doormat stuff for Jesus challenges us to be strong and find a creative way
of revealing and combating the power of evil.
Getting even is revealed to be fruitless. We are
told not to be anxious nor to seek to impress others. Further Jesus tells those who heed his words
will be like those who build their house on a rock and when the rains come they
will be safe a secure. We will become peaceful people, people who will
be like salt or light for the rest of the world. And this is not about a future reality but is
about our lives now.
The Beatitudes… It Happens from the Inside
The teachings begin with a series of
blessings that we often call the beatitudes.
The term beatitude
comes from the Latin adjective be?tit?d? which means “happy”,
or “blissful”. At a first glance they seem bizarre. Happy are those who are poor, happy are those
who are gentle for they shall inherit the earth, and so on. You have to be kidding. The gentle inherit the earth….. you have to
be joking for the gentle and meek in our world will get kicked in the teeth and
miss out on everything. You have to
fight and scheme to get things in this world, and as for being poor…. That
doesn’t sound like fun!
Jesus is asking us to look inside. You
have to look at what’s driving your actions.
We have to learn to tame the ego, that power within us which wants to
grow and dominate, amassing influence and power. We have to face our fears and anxieties that
imprison and keep us from being truly ourselves. The beatitudes take us inside ourselves
rather than just offering some moral rules to live by.
So there, let’s
look at just the first two to see if we can get the hang of these strange
Blessed are the poor in
spirit the kingdom of heaven is theirs….So what is Jesus getting at. In Luke’s version of the beatitude he simply
says blessed are the poor. There are a
number of words in Greek dealing with states of poverty. The usual Greek word for the peasant class is
tapeinoi, which referred to the great
majority of folk in Jesus’ time. But
that’s not the word Matthew chooses to use.
When he says blessed are the poor he uses the word ptochoi which applies to those at the very bottom, the expendable
ones, the untouchables, and the bent over beggars that know they have absolutely
nothing. Jesus is saying these people
will be happy, and these people will see the kingdom of heaven. What on earth does he mean?
I recall that
after the earthquakes many people told me that material possessions were less
important for them, sometimes for obvious reason. Prized possessions had literally been
shattered. What were we learning? I think we all knew that what really mattered
in our lives was relationship. Family
and friends were what really mattered. Having
lots of things wasn’t much help when it came to the earth shaking. Maybe Jesus would say to us blessed are the
poor for they shall see what really matters.
But I think he
would also say take it a step further. In our lives we get attached to all sorts of
things besides material possessions. I
am about to enter retirement and discover that I no longer have a place of
privilege and power as a minister. Many
struggle with retirement because of this.
Loosing a sense of purpose and power.
There is a part of us that craves for recognition and admiration and
Jesus says we have to let it go. That’s
why Jesus would also say you need to become like a child to enter the kingdom
of God. You need to become detached from
the things that feed our ego.
For any of you
who have looked at Buddhism you’ll know that this sounds very Buddhist. Letting go of attachment is central in that
faith, but here it is in Christianity as well.
But there is something more.
Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven belongs to people who have learned to
let go of the desire to be noticed or to be admired by others. Notice that word belongs…it doesn’t say will
belong but says belongs. It happens
now. The poor know they are poor and do not seek to
bolster their value and ego by false means. They are set free of the need to
impress others, compare themselves with others, and strive to keep up with the
Jones’s. They don’t have to defend
themselves, or build networks of people to affirm them. They don’t have to learn to play the right
games to parade themselves in front of others.
The poor can just be, and when you are freed from the desire to impress,
to have your say, to be noticed, to seek power and prestige, you will become a
beautiful person in the true sense of the word.
In a world where image is so
important but where anxiety and fears are growing exponentially we need to hear
this simple truth and blessing.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth… The word meek is an interesting one. In Jesus’ time the powerful owned land. Most were labourers and workers eking out an
existence as best they could. The meek
could be translated as the powerless ones.
There was a message here for those people. Jesus is saying they will be landowners when
God is fully respected by all people and the reign of God or commonwealth of
God comes on earth. There will be
justice and equality for all. All will
own land and have the opportunity that brings in an agrarian society. It is a message of hope. It is also a message of challenge for
the wealthy ones, powerful ones. Societies like ours that have seen great
divisions of inequality open up need to listen.
The meek, the powerless always have a place around God’s table and we
have to work and stand up for a world that consigns no-one to the scrap heap to
be forgotten or labelled as worthless. There is another side to this coin. My
dictionary describes meek as patient and submissive and that sounds decidedly
dodgy. The don’t push and shove, they just accept what is. I
think we need to get this word sorted. I
don’t see Jesus telling people to be submissive and like doormats. I don’t see Jesus saying put up with
whatever. Happy are the doormats. Eugene
Petersen in his modern translation in the Message translates this verse: “You
are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.” I think we start to see a different view of
meekness. It is not about being a
doormat and giving into everyone’s demands of you, jumping when someone else
says jump. It’s not a recommendation to
be spineless, but is about discovering who you truly are. That sounds very different.
But knowing who you truly are doesn’t just
happen. I’m still learning. Key is a practice of reflection and reflection
is something we could do with a whole lot more of in our world. The reflection requires we are honest with
ourselves but what we also need is feedback from others who often see things we
are blind to. The trouble is honestly
feeding back is something we are often not good at. Sadly Christians are well known for their
ability to see faults in themselves and in others while affirmation is another
story.. I wonder what our congregation
might look like if we saw more readily and celebrated more readily and affirmed
more readily each others gifts. …….. you
did that really well. …….. I think you
have a real gift for……. You seem to have this unique ability to…. Research would tell us that the most successful teams work best on a
five to one ratio. Five messages of
affirmation to every message of criticism.
I wonder if we could ever make our congregation a five to one
congregation. St Martin’s the five to
one community where we help one another learn who we truly are. A community that notices and affirms the good
things in the lives others. A community
that helps people know their gifts and encourages people to use their
There is a danger here also. Affirmation may simply feed our ego instead
of bringing us to a truer understanding of ourselves, so the meek also
understand that our strengths and gifts are gifts. They come from God. We are not self made, but we are God
made. Our strengths well used will make
a difference in the world, but our strengths are not mine. Meek people know this well.
are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.” Jesus says when you know this you will
inherit the earth. In the original
telling this meant you would have some land to build your life on, a place to
stand tall, you’ll know your turangawaewaei.
A place where we are empowered and connected. Eugene Peterson goes on to say when we
discover who we truly are, “That’s the
moment you find you find yourself proud owners of everything that can’t be
bought or sold.” When you know who
you truly are in a community like this you will stand tall, your life will have
found it’s true purpose and place, and that is something we all long for deep
inside. You are content to just be, to the glory of
It starts from the inside out….. You
will be happy when you are freed from the desire to impress. You will find heaven has drawn near.
You will be happy when you are content
to be who you truly are. You will
discover your turagawaewae…. A place of gentle strength.
May the Spirit of Jesus continue to work
within each of us, teaching us, transforming us, and building a community where
all have a place of belonging and purpose.
Wilson 2 February 2020