The World’s Greatest Rebel

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This weekend I read a couple essays by Warren Carter titled “Power and Identities” and “Embodying God’s Empire in Communal Practices.”  In these two essays, Carter talks about the context of this man, Jesus, who preached the sermon on the mount. It’s very important to note that at the beginning of the sermon it does not say who is giving the sermon, so we have to look at context to understand who Jesus is, who he is talking to, and what he wants them to get out of the message.

Literary Context: Matthew spends the first 4 chapters of his Gospel explaining who Jesus is. I assume most people who read my blog are somewhat familiar with the life of Jesus and probably have read this book at least once in their life, so I won’t go into too much depth about any specific section. The following is what led to Jesus gaining a following and preaching the Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew

  • Genealogy: He was the son of Abraham and son of David as promised. He was in the line of priests, prophets, and kings as promised. Com
  • Commissioned to manifest God’s saving presence: “He shall save his people from their sins”, Emmanuel — God with us
  • Opposed by imperial status quo: From birth, Herod wanted him dead and used the elite to try to find and kill Jesus
  • Way Prepared: John announces Jesus’ task is to baptize with Spirit and fire
  • Sanctioned by God in Baptism: Spirit comes down, the Father identifies the Son
  • Tempted: Devil offers Jesus the chance to Feed the hungry, Trust God, and take charge of all the empires on Earth (but at his own bidding, not the Father’s)
  • Jesus located himself in Scripture: Read Isaiah 9 to the congregation
  • Calls his disciples: created a new community focused on God with new identities and a new purpose
  • Heals people: Jesus enacts God’s life-giving purpose

Imperial Context:

  • 2-3% of people had all the power and control in the Roman Empire, there was practically no middle class
  • Matthew wrote his Gospel in Antioch, Syria in approximately the ’80s AD when there was oppressive taxes to pay for the war Caesar declared on Jerusalem
  • Matthew’s Gospel was written in part to call out Rome’s ways and announce that people could join a new community who did operate contrary to God’s purposes (Salvation)
    • Rome’s methods included lies, spies, allies, and murder
    • The Gospel says that even with what Rome is doing, they are still accidentally furthering God’s purpose — Herod and Pilate both tried to end Jesus’ disturbance, but both failed while God’s purpose continued
  • Jesus announces that the rule of Rome is nearly over in Matthew 4:17 — It’s being changed into a theocracy in the kingdom of Heaven
  • The people being called “Blessed” in the Beatitudes are the people that Rome and the highest Jewish leaders have been beating up for generations
    • they are the uber poor, the destitute, the sick.
    • Their spirits have been crushed
    • they’ve lost hope
    • Jesus is disturbing the status quo by saying these people, not the Romans and not the leaders, are blessed by God. God’s kingdom and the earth belong to them. They will get justice for all the injustice that’s been done against them.

So like I said, Jesus was a rebel. It is evidenced by the people he addresses in the Beatitudes. He gets his following from the people who are barely hanging on to what little hope they have. He is calling to create a new community, separate from the Romans and separate from their own leaders. When Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer he starts by saying “Our Father.” Caesar was called father in that he was the ‘father of the fatherland’ and Zeus, the king of the gods was call father — but Jesus clarifies with “in heaven’ .. He’s saying these leaders are no longer the ones to be worshiped, God was. Jesus told the people that they should give gifts in secret because in those days the aristocracy won favor with the people by giving large, extravagant gifts with huge ceremonies. He told his followers to leave their sacrifices at the alter and instead go seek forgiveness from people we’ve sinned against and then come back, because the aristocracy made a big show of forgiving people in the public square. Jesus said they’ve received all the reward they ever will, but righteous acts done in secret (exactly the opposite of how things worked at that time) will be remembered by God and rewarded.

Jesus wasn’t just calling people to love each other. He was calling people to separate themselves from the current world order and exchange them for a community focused entirely on God. Here’s what I learned from the first few verses of chapter 6 (including the Lord’s Prayer): There are three acts of Justice. I won’t examine each of them for this post, but I sure will in the future. They are Mercy (6:2-4), Prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). The most important of these, I think, is mercy. Jesus called those who show it blessed and it is the first act justice that Jesus describes in chapter 6.

The Beatitudes

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It seems reasonable for me to first think about the Beatitudes. They are Matthew 5:1-11. Beatitude is the Latin word for Blessings, and Jesus is blessing special groups of people. I know that I will be coming back to each of these verses many times this year, but I’d like to take each verse and write my thoughts. I haven’t done any research apart from looking up the meaning of the word Beatitude (and lot’s of Bible passages) yet, so all this is just me. This week I am reading and considering the Sermon on the Mount using the New International Version (2010 edition), and this is the version I will be working on memorizing the sermon in.

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

The background here: Last chapter, Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, began his ministry, chose from all the people who started following him 12 to be his Disciples, and began healing the sick. The crowd was sure to be huge… Jesus was curing paralysis, blindness, leprosy, expelling demons, and other incurable diseases. It is pretty understandable that people would want to follow you if you could cure things that no one has ever been cured of. I also think it’s interesting that although this crowd was following Jesus, but Matthew says that Jesus starts to teach his disciples — obviously loud enough for many people to hear.

He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The first thing that stands out about this verse is that Luke says it differently. Luke, the good doctor, says in Luke 6:20 that Blessed are the poor. I’m not sure about what this means. Is it the people who are spiritually poor? Is it the people who are physically poor? Is it the people who are downcast? Whoever this group is, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. It’s a huge blessing for the King to say to his subjects that his kingdom is theirs. I think this group has a particular spot of affection in Jesus’ heart. He describes them first and calls his kingdom theirs.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Again, Luke says this verse differently. He says that weepers will laugh in Luke 6:21. I think that since Luke is a doctor, he sees the people in pain as being healed. They aren’t just comforted, but their pain is removed and so they are able to laugh. Matthew seems to be showing Jesus’ compassion for people who are hurting. I guess I sometimes feel like it’s not okay to mourn or be sad, because despite circumstances “God still loves me” and “All things work together for good.” I think Jesus is saying that it’s okay to mourn. God himself will be the comforter for mourners. That’s why they are blessed– God empathizes and his promise to comfort mourners.

5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

I really like the stark contrast of this blessing to the quality to attain it. The meek, the humble people, will inherit the earth. So the people who don’t glorify themselves and the people who don’t try to make sure everyone knows how great they are will be the ones to inherit the earth. I feel like earth in this case is completely physical, not a matter of spiritual stuff. So they will be the ones to get riches, power, all the things that the people who aren’t meek want, Jesus says will be their inheritance.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

This is another blessing that Matthew and Luke disagree on. Luke, again chooses the physical hunger in Luke 6:21 again. Luke says The hungry will be satisfied while Matthew says those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be filled. I like the metaphor of being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. It’s like you acknowledge that you aren’t righteousness now, but you are working; doing everything in your power; to obtain it. Jesus’ promise for those people is that they will receive righteousness — not just enough righteousness to be satisfied (like Luke describes it), but so much righteousness that they will be full.

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

This verse is pretty convicting for me. It’s pretty straight forward — you will get what you pay forward. It makes me question whether I show mercy to others or whether I seek “justice” on others. I say “justice” because It’s not so much what’s just, but what I consider to be justice for myself. I guess the thing for me to consider this week is how much mercy I am showing to people who wrong me.

8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

I don’t know what the difference is between being pure and being pure in heart. Perhaps pure is the result of being purified, while pure in heart is like innocence. The people who do not seek after unclean things are the same people who are seeking after God. Perhaps this is saying that are blessed because they will get what they are seeking after.

9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

The first thing I think of with this verse is Mother Theresa. I’m not Catholic, but I think she may be the ultimate example of a peacemaker in recent history. I think this verse is saying that we are recognized by our actions. If we stir arguments, people will see us in a violent manner, but if we make peace with others, they see us as the children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is calling out to his people in this verse. He knows what’s going to happen to him and he knows what’s going to happen to the people in the several thousand years after his death. I think this is a word of encouragement to them. They are blessed because God sees why they are being persecuted. As a reward, their inheritance is his own kingdom. It reminds me of Revelations, there is a time when the martyrs will call out directly to God and ask for vengeance for their souls. The Lord says they must wait just a little longer so that every martyr will be among them when God avenges them. The martyrs have a very special place in Heaven if they can speak directly to God from his throne.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I think this further emphasizes his point from the last verse. It’s not just martyrs, but anyone who has been hurt because of Jesus. Although it hurts, they always have history to look back on — the prophets — and the future to look forward too — Heaven. I guess in the moment it kind of sucks, but this is a promise that one day they will live in a place with no suffering with a spot of honor because of the suffering they endured.

All That I’m Doing

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This year I’ve made it a goal to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. There is a short story explaining why I’ve come to this decision. Last year I read the entire Bible in chronological order. I started November 1st 2009 and completed it December 31st 2010. It was the second time I’ve read the whole Bible. The only other time was during my freshman and sophomore years in high school. Upon finishing it I thought about what I wanted to do this year and one of the ideas was to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. I decided to do something else, but still had the idea in my head.

I went skiing with several people involved with The Salt Company January 10th and one of the pastors, Jeff Thune, asked what the New Year’s resolutions were for the guys  in the car. Off the cuff I said I wanted to memorize the Sermon on the Mount, but since I had a different plan going on it wasn’t a wholehearted thing, just an answer to a question because it was the first thing I thought of.

As part of the Bible plan I decided to do, yesterday I read the Sermon on the Mount and was God reminded me about my “New Year’s Resolution,” so I decided to follow through. I am dedicating this year to studying and memorizing the Sermon on the mount. I checked online and found out I am not the only person who decided to study this sermon, the most famous sermon of all time. I’m including the link to it in the Blogroll because it helped me figure out how I want to go about accomplishing my goal.

There are a couple things I should probably say now about accomplishing the goal. Here is the timeline I hope to follow: Chapter 5 memorized by May 30, Chapter 6 memorized by August 31, Chapter 7 memorized by November 31st, the completed sermon memorized by December 25 (Christmas). I want to read the sermon in as many translations as I can find. I want to hear as many people as I can read the sermon to me. I want to read sermons and books about this sermon and spend the year really thinking about what each part of what Jesus is saying. I’ll keep anyone (or maybe just myself for later reference) up to date with what I’ve been reading/ listening too and my thoughts about/what I learn. I’ve never been much for blogging — I’ve tried a couple times and usually quit after a month or less. If anyone does actually follow this, keep my accountable to all these things! If anyone has any suggestions for me, I’d really like to hear them.

I will be honest, I’m a little nervous about how well I will do. This is my final semester of college, so I am pretty busy and I do not have any set plans for what I will be doing at the end. Last year I did not stick to my plan as well as I would have liked, hence it taking 2 extra months to finish (meaning there was at least 2 months worth of days in there I didn’t make any progress — it was actually probably closer to 5 months!). I’m really hoping to be better committed with this goal, and maybe blogging/letting people know will encourage me to stick to it.