Thoughts on the
Sermon on the Mount
By David Bolick
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I read a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount by Scot McKnight. In it he pointed out:
Jesus here blesses three kinds of people:
• those who are the humble poor
• those who pursue righteousness and justice
• those who create peace
I wonder if we might examine once again the sort of people that measure up to our standards. How do we measure piety? How do we measure spirituality? How do we measure true Christianity?
Jesus measures it by the standard of whether a person loves God, loves self, and loves others. He sees this in people who are the humble poor, who work for righteousness and justice, and who create reconciliation. His standard and our standard are often at odds. In my experience in churches, I see these sorts of standards to measure followers:
• those who read their Bible and pray daily
• those who attend church regularly
• those who tithe
• those who know a lot about the Bible
• those who preach well
• those who exercise the spiritual gifts
• those who exercise the spiritual disciplines
• those who evangelize
• those who have great stories of conversion
• those who write books
• those who separate themselves from the world
• those who have succeeded in business
• those who run for public office
• those who serve in the military
Most of us would say that, apart from one or two of our quibbles, Christians do these things. But here’s the problem: By what standard do we measure spirituality? By what we can see or by the inner qualities Jesus seems to be teaching? That is, do we see spirituality in those whose love for God and others has so worked into their inner fabric that they are humble in spite of their poverty and the suffering of injustice, that they are doing all they can to bring about justice in this world, and that they are seeking to reconcile those who are at odds? Are our standards those of Jesus?
The Beatitudes of Jesus are nothing short of a revolution of evaluation. We see in those whom Jesus blesses those who truly are the Jesus people of this world, and what he calls to our attention about them are not the sort of elements that often go into our evaluation methods.
The divergence between those Jesus called blessed and those conventionally considered well off gave me some meaty food for thought. Not long after that reading my wife updated me on a young woman that she and I (mainly she) had been witnessing to over a period of several years. Since we have been full-time missionaries for a long time, studying the teachings of Jesus and doing our best to live them, and also since we are her elders, the default setting of our interaction with her has been that we imparted the teaching. But now I feel like I’m the one in the learner’s seat.
It’s become fairly standard practice for many businesses nowadays to exploit their workforce—hiring in such a way that they are obliged to give the least possible benefits, if any, pay the minimum, and then dismiss workers before their time with the company would take them to a stage where they’d be entitled to higher pay or better benefits. This bright young woman had started a business with a few partners after graduating from university, and they had landed a contract with a large corporation, but before long it became apparent that one of the hats she was going to have to wear would be that of hatchet-woman, implementing the above-mentioned policies on behalf of this corporation.
If she got in there and did that, she could be assured of good pay, ascension in her career, etc., but she decided that wasn’t for her and set out to work on her own with a smaller company. Because of their unwillingness to be cutthroat, however, they simply couldn’t compete and had to close down. Now unemployed, she has been looking for work in the human resources sector, as that was her field of study and area of expertise, but the only jobs she can get in that field involve executing those pitiless policies. Because she just can’t see herself doing that for a living, she said she would now be looking for employment in completely different areas, even though she probably won’t earn nearly as much.
What a courageous woman—pursuing justice at considerable personal cost! It’s not like money is no object for her. She really needs a job, but her principles are more important to her than her own material welfare.
I thought it was remarkable that I heard about this within just a day or two of reading the above commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. It put modern skin on it, in terms I can understand in today’s world. It had quite a whetting effect on my own appetite for righteousness, making me even hungrier and thirstier for it, as well as making me want to be that kind of person myself.