Summary: Jesus' teaching and commands in the Sermon on the Mount strike at the root of our personalities and stand in contrast to our most basic instincts. But if we are to break the cycles of violence and persecution, and experience God's kingdom fully, we have t
So, perhaps you've heard. When Jesus came to earth, the whole point was so that people could see and learn about this "new thing" that God was doing. When our Lord took flesh and walked among us as Jesus Christ, it was so that God's kingdom might be established on earth! And as we've been learning in Bible Study, there were a lot of people back then who didn't like this "new thing." They didn't like what Jesus was saying. They didn't appreciate that Jesus was trying to change things; just like a lot of us these days don't much appreciate change. But as Jesus walked around Galilee, as he healed people, and ate with the sinners and outcasts, there were also a whole lot of people who became hungry for more. So as the crowds start getting pretty big, Jesus decides it time to start really teaching them what this "new thing" is all about. So Jesus climbs up onto the side of a hill, and he begins preaching to the crowds in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, in case it hasn't become clear yet in our study of the Sermon on the Mount in previous weeks, let me say quite plainly that these words strike at the heart of what Jesus was about. The Sermon on Mount contains Jesus' most basic and clear teaching about the essence of this "new thing" God is doing. Here is Jesus' teaching about what God's kingdom actually, really looks like! Jesus is telling us what it is like to be a part of God's kingdom! And the thing about God's kingdom that becomes abundantly clear in Jesus' words to the crowds is that it is radically different from the ways of the world; it's even radically different from these laws they have been following for generations! What Jesus is teaching here even goes down deep to the roots of our personalities and stands in contrast to our "natural tendencies." Last week we struggled with Jesus' command to let go of our anger and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. This week's challenge is pure, unconditional love!
You see, God in Christ Jesus is looking at the world and seeing cycles of hate and violence. The old laws only went so far as to command that we not bring harm to other people. Jesus is now saying, "That's not good enough!" Not only are we not to bring harm to others, Jesus tells us we are to love others; neighbors and enemies alike! Jesus' Sermon here and elsewhere is a portrait of the very heart of God, one who loves the unlovable, comes among us in Christ, suffers our worst, and rises to forgive us! This is the way of God's kingdom! So the question for us is, "Will the circle be unbroken?" Will we say that Jesus' command is too hard and continue to harbor hate in our hearts and act in violence to others? Will we continue these terrible cycles that harm so many people, or will we embrace God's "new way" of love? What Jesus is asking of us here is to embrace love in such a way that we refuse to play the opponent's game of hatred and violence. I have to say to you that we would be kidding ourselves if we glossed over Jesus' words here and didn't take them seriously. What he said is extremely difficult to live out in reality, maybe even close to impossible. But God has made us as good people, we can break the circles of hate and violence, we can love as Jesus loves. Jesus has even shown us and taught us how to do this, and it begins by letting go of our desire for revenge.
How many times in our lives have we sought revenge against a person who has wronged us? The first time I ever got in big trouble in school was about halfway through my kindergarten year. All the kindergartners were out on the playground one day, and for some reason, several of us were in a line. I think we were waiting to jump rope or something like that. Anyway, the line was pretty long, and I had been waiting for a while, when all of a sudden, one of my classmates (who had just had her turn) ran back down the line and jumped right in front of me! I was so angry, and without even thinking, I pushed her. Well, she told the teacher, and I got in trouble. But the getting in trouble part aside, I went the way of vengeance when she jumped the line in front of me. Instead of letting her have that spot, my gut reaction went, and I got violent and pushed her. You see how difficult it is to turn the other cheek, to walk a second mile, offer all of our clothes? It goes against our most basic instincts! But Jesus says this is what we are to do. God's community is filled with people who think of others first! Jesus says that if we are going to experience God's kingdom, we have to check our gut reactions, and instead offer unconditional love, even to the people who have wronged us.