I was reading Matthew recently and couldn’t help but stumble upon statements that challenged and inspired. Jesus had a wonderful way of codifying truth in such a way that we are tested and encouraged at the same time.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 helps us to see the challenges and yet find hope. Not everyone has agreed with that statement.
Martin Luther believed the sermon offered an impossible ideal because “we can never be perfect or love our enemies.” He called it “the counsel of despair” for no one could truly follow it.
But Jesus is not demanding of us what we cannot do. That would make Him out to be cruel. So, if He has our best interest in mind, and He does, then perhaps we are not reading it correctly?
I find the sermon encouraging because it reminds us that we are wondrous creations and that we have potential to become much more than what we are currently. We have all the spiritual gifts we need to be Kingdom citizens.
You see, most Biblical teaching is not based on how sinful or bad humans are. As a whole, recognizing our condition and working to rise above it is a motivation that makes us become more than what we envision ourselves to be. We can be great citizens in this world and the next through the love and grace of Jesus that we live out daily.
You bear the image of your Creator. The first chapters of Genesis remind us that we are all beautifully made in His image and because we are in the image and likeness of God, that also means seeing others in that same image. That is a great challenge in our current societal atmosphere of mistrust and hate.
You see, we shouldn’t only see the divine image in babies or children or sweet old folks. We should see the image in the terrorist, the homicidal maniac, evil dictators and even mean neighbors. They too are humans made in the likeness of the Creator. We have to figure this out as the church. Are we willing to love our neighbor? Can we extend empathy toward those that hate us?
Here is what Jesus said in the sermon: “‘God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way’” (Matthew 5:11-12 NLT).
So, there’s good news there! Don’t miss it. And when you are willing to love the unlovable, you make your Father in Heaven smile. (OK, that’s my opinion.)
One of my favorite authors, Amy-Jill Levine writes, “Jesus knows that hate takes up too much energy. Loving is, in fact, far easier than hating.”
Test this out. Try compassion and prayer over hate and anger.
We might remember, Jesus was born into a world of class warfare, religious strife, sectarian views and a pagan government that had little regard for almost everyone. He grew up in a violent world where death and disease were prevalent and where His own religion was splintered. And before He was an adult, He learned the sad truth that not many really cared about much else except themselves. That might sound familiar even in our world. But Jesus the Teacher said this to His followers in the sermon.
“‘You are the salt of the earth’” (Matthew 5:13).
“‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden’” (Matthew 5:14).
“‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven’” (Matthew 5:44).
“‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’” (Matthew 5:48).
He is speaking to us. Can you hear Him?
Jesus gives us this sermon as a hymn to creation and the Creator. Read the whole sermon this season and let it remind you why we have such a wonderful Savior.
My prayer and hope in the coming year, pandemic and all, is that we will be the church that loves better, acts with mercy and grace and reflects our Father in heaven to all of creation, starting right where we live. May it be so!
Jon Weiner is a community engagement pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.