Matthew 5:1-12; Micah 6:1-8; I Corinthians 1:18-31
To anyone who is wise and powerful in this world, Jesus’ death on the cross makes absolutely no sense. From the perspective of human wisdom and human strength, a person can read about the way that Jesus did not put up a fight to save his own life and come to the conclusion that Jesus was just a miserable weakling and certainly a fool for allowing the religious leaders to convict him with false accusations and permitting the Romans to crucify him on the cross in the place of Barabbas. A real man would have stood his ground, put up a stronger defense, or even taken up arms to defeat his enemy just as President Obama promised this past week that he would do to anyone who threatened our national security and freedom.
The difference between these 2 was that Jesus never chose to live according to the human ways of this world. At least from the time that he was baptized, Jesus set his heart and his mind on what he called “divine things” like God’s way of loving other people, being in right relationships, doing justice, making peace, and liberating everyone in the process. As Jesus once told his disciples, he came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and that is exactly what he did by doing God’s justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the God in whom he put his trust from the day that he was baptized until the moment that he took his last breath on the cross.
Just as Jesus took the call of the prophets seriously, so also he set out to live according to the law of Moses that had been handed down to him by his ancestors. Besides putting his complete trust in God, Jesus never called upon the name of God to wage war against his enemies, but rather to forgive them. If ever there was a person who demonstrated how to keep the Sabbath day holy by liberating people from their oppression, Jesus was a shining example of such obedience. Although Jesus did not always go along with what his parents wanted him to do, in the end, while he was hanging on the cross, Jesus made sure that his mother had someone to care for her in his absence.
According to the instructions that are attributed to Jesus in our gospel lesson for today, Jesus lived in solidarity with those who were impoverished by choosing a life of simplicity. He grieved over Jerusalem because of the way that the religious leaders were taking advantage of the widows and doing nothing to care for the orphans. Jesus demonstrated his meekness by choosing what we would call today non-violent resistance. Instead of going after his adversaries with a sword, Jesus used his words to denounce their evil ways, all because he had a hunger and a thirst for right relationships that Jesus chose to establish by being merciful even to those who convicted him to death and nailed him to a cross. To the bitter end, Jesus was pure in heart—so much so that a Roman soldier was the first one to recognize that Jesus truly was a child of God.
Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus sought to make peace in this world by doing the justice that God expects of everyone who calls themselves a child of God. As a peacemaker, Jesus deliberately chose not to take up a sword to fight against and possibly kill his enemies. He did not commit adultery by getting into bed with the principalities and powers of this world. Whenever he had the opportunity, Jesus demonstrated that the equitable distribution of a few loaves and fish could feed thousands of people and still allow for leftovers. At times, Jesus violated his own instructions by calling the religious leaders hypocrites and blind fools, and he paid the price for this truth-telling with his life—a life that was devoid of any kind of covetousness because Jesus put his trust in God and not in the human wealth, power, or status of this world.
What did Jesus gain by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with his God in this way? What Jesus gained was a lot of animosity and hostility from those who were threatened by his solidarity with those who were impoverished and by his criticism of those who used their wealth and power to oppress and exploit those who had little means to defend themselves. What Jesus gained was a lot of ridicule and persecution by those who righteously claimed that they had God on their side, at least according to the letter of their humanly-constructed legal system. What Jesus gained was a whole series of false accusations and mockery by those who could not tolerate the truth of Jesus’ words and actions that revealed a God of grace and mercy rather than a God of wrath and condemnation.
From a human perspective, we certainly would have to say that in the way that Jesus was treated by the authorities and powers of his day, he did not have a blessed life. However, Jesus knew that his being blessed by God in this life was what mattered, and that he did not have to live according to the human standards of this world in order to be considered blessed. This awareness of this blessed relationship with God was affirmed at his baptism when God’s Spirit was renewed in Jesus and God’s love for Jesus was confirmed. Jesus did not have to do anything to earn or deserve this grace and favor of God because from the outset of his ministry he was assured of God’s presence in his life and the power of God’s Spirit which gave him the faith and courage to speak and act as he did.
You and I have the same privilege of knowing that we are blessed children of God because we are beloved creatures of God’s formation. As beloved and blessed children of God, we have been given the capacity to walk the talk just as Jesus did. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he had the confidence that by the power of God’s Spirit, they would be able to do greater things than he ever did as long as they put their trust in God and concentrated on that which was divine rather than human. By virtue of our baptism in the name of Jesus, we have received the same call as Jesus’ first disciples—the women and men, both Jews and Gentiles, who by the power of God and by the wisdom of God turned the world upside down no matter how much people of this world reviled them, persecuted them, and uttered all kinds of evil against them falsely on account of their trust in the God whom Jesus had revealed to them.
On account of our already being loved and blessed by God, what Jesus expects of those who choose to follow him simply is what disciples of Jesus do. They stand in solidarity with those who are impoverished. They grieve with those who are oppressed and exploited. They choose to use non-violent means to counter the violence in this world. They dedicate themselves to right relationships, even with their enemies. They concentrate on being merciful rather than vengeful. They listen to and follow the lead of God’s Spirit in their hearts. They pursue God’s manner of justice in this world in order to make peace.
We don’t do any of these things in order to earn God’s love and favor or guarantee our place in heaven. We do them because we recognize how blessed we already are by being God’s beloved children and because we have made a choice to follow Jesus, even if we might have to die with him in the same way that he foolishly accepted death on a cross rather than giving in to all of the human pressure to be something other than what he was created and called by God to be and do. We are faced with these same pressures every day of our lives in so many ways. In this way, we are no different than Jesus. So, whatever the cost, we consider our baptismal call again this day, and renew our commitment to do God’s justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God just as Jesus did in order to make peace in this world and experience the realm of God in all of its fullness today and every day. Amen.