“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESL)
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Jesus challenges the person who wants to be a Christian in first twelve verses of Matthew 5, commonly called The Beatitudes. He points out very specific behaviors and attitudes that are required. Humility, powerlessness, curiosity, forgiveness, right action, peacefulness, and acceptance of what is (especially rejection) are on His list. Living up to, and into, these ways of being bring us into a deep and satisfying relationship with Jesus Christ, with our neighbor and with ourselves.
And then Jesus offers us a series of aphorisms that challenge our world view and encourage us to live in a new reality. And, as with the previous instructions, the point is not only a new set of behaviors, or even the creation of a new world in a new age – although those are the ultimate effects of following His advice. The goal is a better, deeper and developing relationship with Jesus Christ. Having Jesus in my heart means that the ways I think, feel and act all connect me with the One who originates that way of being and sustains it. Jesus Christ lived it here on earth, and has become it by His glorification.
Salt even today is vital to a decent lifestyle. However, in Jesus’ day it was never perfectly refined. A container of salt would include small amounts of dirt or very coarse pieces. When a spoon of salt had been added to some food or liquid, it would dissolve and these leftover bits were good for nothing but hardening a road! This is one way the salt would lose its flavor. And then there is perhaps the more straight forward metaphor: imagine food sprinkled with flavorless salt! Not only would they be bland, but foods that the salt would normally preserve, would rot.
Jesus says that one of the materials of my life – truth – is necessary for the delightfulness and usefulness of my life and my relationship with Him. But when I separate the goodness of that truth from it, the truth becomes flavorless and lifeless; it becomes foul and corrupting. In my relationship with Jesus, a delight in goodness has to be my motivation for acquiring and using truth. I must make repeated efforts, and remember again and again, to use truth for its purpose – loving the Lord, people and myself. Sometimes that is hard work.
To understand the next aphorism, it must be known that in Jesus’ day artificial light was provided by oil lamps. Sometimes they are called candles in the translations, but as far as I know they did not have wax candles. Only bowls of fired clay or metal holding vegetable oil (maybe fish oil), with a small piece of cloth or thick thread stuck out of the oil for a wick. And how they lit the oil with fire is another detail I imagine could be problematic. Now, if the lamp was large with a thick wick and was put on a high stand, the flame would be large and the light could fill a room. It would be stupid to go to all that trouble only to cover it with a basket! Jesus adds to this with the observation that a city on a hill cannot be hidden – in fact the intention is to dominate everyone’s view in the valleys all around. A city is put there as an intentional tactic to hold the high ground. A city that is built in a forest or valley wants to remain hidden, which is simply a different defense tactic.
My relationship with Jesus will develop and grow when its influence determines my character and when it dominates my appearing in the world. In fact, when I notice I am hiding the light that gives me all my personality, it diminishes my relationship with Jesus. And when I notice that I am spending energy avoiding being seen as having Jesus in my heart, my joy in life, my perception of love and my attention to my usefulness, are all seriously threatened. It will take a good deal of effort and attention to acquire the skills and experience to authentically and genuinely show my personality and hold my ground in the world. But in a marvelous way, my practicing showing my heart for Jesus and using the truth to show love, attracts the very support that Jesus provides both spiritually and in the circumstances of my life.
What is the first law that comes to your mind? The speed limit law? Tax law? Or do you first think of a law of nature, like gravity? Are you aware of your attitude about laws? You might be the kind of person who reacts with wariness at the mention of laws. Or you might first think of the order law establishes which provides for freedom. It makes a difference in how you hear Jesus’ proclamation that He is the fulfillment – the final accomplishment – of the law. From one point of view, Jesus was a rebel whose mission was the overthrow of the law enforcers, the Priests, Levites and scribes (lawyers). From another point of view, Jesus was the epitome of the law, demanding perfect obedience to the smallest details of the letter of the law.
My relationship with Jesus Christ is greatly enhanced when I remember two things: zeal for justice must not obscure the righteousness of law, and the law Jesus is promoting is spiritual law that is as sure, consistent and pervasive as natural law. As my relationship with Jesus matures I learn better and better how to balance my outrage at injustice, hypocrisy and corruption with deferment to authority and the law. And Jesus showed me the way. He did call people hypocrites, vipers, blind, etc. But His zeal was clearly founded on love for people and the law, so He did not make it personal as if the corrupt Pharisee was the source of evil. Jesus deeply realized that evil from hell was the source and fought against that evil. And my relationship with Jesus on its lowest, most external level is simple obedience. Spiritual law does not condemn me. It does not criticize me. It just is, like gravity. My love of Jesus places me under the dominion of a law as sure and implacable as gravity. I do not argue with this law. It just is the way it is. This level of trust and faith in the Lord is basic, simple and external. And it is necessary. The more I rely upon this law to describe how my life works, the more I will feel safe in the world, in the arms of Jesus, regardless the circumstances of that life.
Jesus often complained to the rulers that they were hypocrites. He accused them of making the laws so onerous that no one could obey them. The Pharisees and Sadducees set the standard of righteousness for everyone else. They had the opportunity because of their wealth and occupation to obey the myriad of laws. They were the model of proper obedience for everyone else. So this aphorism is a huge challenge! How can anyone be more righteous than the Pharisees and Sadducees?
What would you do in response to a set of rules that were impossible to obey? Likely you would eventually not even try to do any of them. You would remove yourself from the game. You would just consider that there are others, better than you, who can be “good,” and resign yourself to being one of the losers, outcasts or impure.
The only ay to be more righteous than the Pharisees and Sadducees, I imagine the people listening to Jesus realized, was to obey the law from an inner motivation. It would be to act righteous as the Pharisees and Sadducees did, but without their hypocrisy and their corrupt desire to rule over people. Jesus isn’t so much raising the bar as He is raising their consciousness!
Indeed, we learn that this is the inner meaning of Jesus words. We are to live lives of propriety, order, integrity, justice, fidelity, uprightness, honesty, etc, from a desire to have them in our hearts. When we live such spiritually righteous lives, then Jesus Himself is in our hearts, minds and actions.
Again we see that the behaviors required of a Christian are often extremely challenging. Yet throughout all His speeches Jesus is revealing and modeling how there is a steady current of love carrying us along. Jesus loves us and never condemns; He lifts, does not put down; leaves us free and never compels. This gives us hope that Jesus can indeed be in our hearts!
Monday, October 29, 2012
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
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 5:1-11
In His first major speech, Jesus describes what it looks like, and what it feels like, to have Him in your heart. There is a unity, a correspondence and an integrity of your inner life with your outer behavior; it is not a matter of one or the other, but of “both/and.” We have here an outline of the motives and their behaviors that will establish Jesus in your heart.
When I look at this list, I am struck by its comprehensiveness and its challenge. The behaviors required of a Christian are often extremely challenging. And the nature and quality of the inner life of these behaviors are often unsatisfying to my physical life (like becoming something called a “child of God” when what I want is peace on earth!).
What is amazing is the consistent search for love for myself, my neighbor and the world, that flows through all His teachings, as evidenced so well here. Throughout all His speeches there is a steady current of love carrying us along–Jesus loves us and never condemns; He lifts, does not put down; leaves us free and never compels. We know He is on our side, because He tells us clearly about the other side, which is spiritual death.
As this love forms my attitudes and produces my speech and action, Jesus is actually in my heart, spiritually and physically. Science has discovered that unconditional love reduces stress and supports heart health! And psychology has described how unconditional love – and even lesser attitudes of regard for others – produces greater measures of happiness, And countless disciples of Jesus Christ who have become habituated to unconditional love will describe an inner peace and strength not available to them otherwise.
We will see in this and coming articles that Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 are all about how to live so that Jesus is in our hearts. Some of the attitudes and behaviors He asks us to take on are tough to get and tough to do. Some are easy. Each behavior He asks us to do has a reward connected to it. Perhaps one way to look at this is to see the promised result as the result of a required behavior. Go through this first set of requirements to be a good person, and mentally rank them on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being easy to do, 3 being hard to do, and 5 being impossible at this time (being hopeful that you will be able some day). You are encouraged to take on the spiritual discipline of one of the harder behaviors, watching the results in your spiritual life. And then recognize that the fulfillment of the inner promise IS having Jesus in your heart!
Verse 3: Be humble; you will get everything you want
Verse 4: Be sad when evil happens; people will sympathize with you
Verse 5: Let another win an argument; powerlessness wins
Verse 6 Look for goodness; find justice
Verse 7: Forgive; will be forgiven
Verse 8: Consistently do good; will consistently have understanding
Verse 9: Make peace; become powerful
Verses 10 & 11: Accept rejection; achieve serenity of an eternal perspective