Summary: Jesus is the new law giver. The beatitudes are a description of what life in the kingdom of God looks like.
Matthew 5:1-20 “Walking a New Path”
American travelers to foreign countries have often been called “Ugly Americans.” The term refers to American tourists’ tendencies to be loud, demonstrative and to believe that everyone understands English if it is spoken loud enough and slow enough. Such people display arrogance and a failure to understand local culture.
Different countries have difficult customs and it is important to know those customs before you travel to that country. For example in Japan one bows instead of shaking hands, gives and receives business cards with two hands and never blows his or her nose in public—especially with a handkerchief. In the Middle East public displays of affection are considered obscene, while it is acceptable to walk hand in hand members of the same sex. A person never exposes the bottom of their feet and in Iran the thumbs up sign is considered offensive and an insult.
Christians live in a different country—God’s kingdom. Jesus reminds his followers of this truth in his Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus sits down and teaches, he is instructing the people in what life in the kingdom is like.
GOD’S KINGDOM NOW
When Jesus begins his ministry Matthew records that his message was, “Repent and believe for the kingdom of God was at hand.” The word that has been translated, “was at hand,” can also be translated, “has arrived.”
The early church anticipated Jesus immanent return, but they also realized that Jesus had brought in something new. They had been born from above according the gospel of John. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we have died with Christ at our baptism, so that as he rose from the dead we to might experience new life.
The Israelites experienced a new life when they escaped from slavery in Egypt to the promise of a new life in the Promised Land. When this was taking place, Moses climbed Mount Sinai and came back down with the Ten Commandments.
Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses. Jesus goes up a mountain, sits down and gives the people a new set of commandments—guidelines for life in God’s Kingdom.
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
A person might ask where this kingdom of heaven is on earth. It is the community of Jesus’ followers—the Church.
I know that this is laughable for many people. The church, at times, has not acted in any way like the kingdom of God. Church fights and behind the scene politics do not reflect the love, grace and mercy of God’s kingdom.
The church, though, has everything it needs to be the kingdom of God. We have the love of God and God’s forgiveness. We have received mercy. We experience the comfort of others in our times of grief.
The problem appears to be that people really don’t take this perspective of the church seriously. Lately we have been reminded how human the church is. We need to remember though, that the church is also God’s presence in the world and one of the ways that God moves to touch the lives of others.
There is a certain outlandishness to the Beatitudes. The Ten Commandments in comparison seem logical. We can understand that it is not good to murder, or to steal. We have a harder time understand how we can be blessed by being poor in spirit, merciful, or mourning.
The kingdom of God is drastically different than the physical world. The Beatitudes are a glimpse not only of life in the kingdom but also what the abundant life is like. To be poor is spirit is to view everything as gift and nothing as our own—a key to living generously. When we mourn, we have a community of our brothers and sisters in Christ to comfort us and help us. As Jesus has made peace between humankind and God, so we can spread that peace. Children of God are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is not something we need to become, but rather it is who we are.
God’s kingdom has come. At the same time we pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven. While we experience the human limitations of God’s kingdom today, we still can live in the reality of the kingdom. In doing so we can be God’s light and salt in the world in which we live.