Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Being Receptive to God’s Saving Presence
Matthew 5:1-2– “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying… [NKJV]
This short passage introduces a part of the Gospel of Matthew known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It has been called that because of the setting in which Jesus delivers the teaching of Matthew chapters 5 – 7. He “goes up on a mountain” to deliver to them a new set of spiritual standards, virtues, and instructions. In this series of teachings, Jesus asserts His own authority over not only the other teachers (rabbis, scribes, priests, and pharisees) of his day, but implies a greater authority for Himself than that of Moses in the Torah. He says, “You have heard that it was said of old…but I say to you….”
Jesus’ proclamations and moral/spiritual instructions in this part of Matthew’s Gospel cover a multitude of real-life topics for those of us who profess faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. He touches on everything from inner anger and lust to how we should help the poor and pray, before declaring the goodness of God and, at the end of this passage, stressing his own significance and authority as God’s new revealer. “Those who hear my words and obey them are like the man who built his house upon the rock.”
At the commencement of this teaching, he is seated – the posture of authority as the prophet and teacher of God – and his disciples come to him. Jesus declares a set of virtues that are necessary for anyone who is desiring to know God and God’s power and peace in their lives along with God’s purity and presence to give meaning to all of life. These virtuous traits are known as “The Beatitudes” – the Blessings – and all of them are not just a matter of one’s attitude, but one’s actions in the world.
By proclaiming these actions and attitudes and the state of blessedness that each one entails, Jesus is not suggesting that by anyone of them the blessing he aligns with each is in any way “earned” by those who embody the virtues he insists are necessary. Just the opposite is, in fact, the case. Jesus is saying that only when these virtues – poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger for righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, peace-making living, and being persecuted for righteousness – are true about one’s life are you able to receive the blessing. Our outlook and our desires and our habitual way of living either make us open in our minds and hearts to God’s presence and blessing – to be received, not earned – or they close us off and imprison us in our own self-reliance.
If the virtues he lists are the ways of life that open us up to receiving God’s blessings, we can appreciate these better once we recognize the ways of life that stand in contrast to them. We either have…
- Poverty of spirit or a feeling of self-sufficiency
- Mourning or a feeling that everything is just fine
- Meekness or arrogant self-serving pride
- Hunger for righteousness or hunger for something other than the good, true, and beautiful
- Mercifulness or an attitude of condemnation and getting even
- Purity of heart or a heart that is polluted and convoluted
- Being peacemakers or an uncaring attitude about human alienation and conflict
- Being persecuted for righteousness or being celebrated for disregarding the good.
We should recognize that these virtues are spoken to his disciples – who came to him – so they are not so much requirements to be achieved to have God’s blessing and presence, but are the virtues of God’s children in Jesus Christ (disciples) that enable us to continue to live and grow in the blessing of God.
May our lives always be open to the fullness of God’s blessings, not desiring or able to be satiated by anything else.