The Sermon on the Mount spans three chapters – 5, 6, and 7 – in Matthew, and is the longest collection of teachings/sayings in the gospel. It is also the centerpiece of Matthew's effort to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and his mission to reinterpret the law in a new way.
The law was given to God's people as a societal framework. Like all laws, some carried more weight than others. And like all laws, it gave rise to lawyers who interpreted it. Some did that well and others not so well. Some looked for all kinds of ways to avoid what was originally the basis of the law. This arguing over the law created, as you might imagine, a system where people found reasons to accuse and attack others while at the same time looking for ways to exonerate themselves.
It's really not that different from today. People do all in their power to stop, obstruct, or persecute people for one thing on one day, but will turn around and instigate, support, and uplift those very same actions when applied to themselves on the next day.
Into this political fray stepped the prophets. Those unpopular people who spoke truth against power and often were tortured or killed for their proclamations.
In the ever-deepening arguments around the law came Micah. Support your mother, says the law; unless you declare that support to be dedicated to God, says the lawyer. This is but one example of the law being used to avoid a responsibility we have to others.
To this Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” This was Micah's summation of the law in an attempt to get people to understand what the core of God's message was. What Micah had to say then is just as applicable today.
Do justice. What does that look like? When women are terminated for being pregnant, that is not justice. When mobile home owners have the land sold out from under them, that is not justice. When water is poisoned yet nothing is done about it, that is not justice. If you are upset by people being given the same rights and opportunities as yourself, that is not justice.
Love kindness. There has been precious little of this lately. I was reading something the other day about revenge. People keep trying to get even because the scales have been tipped against them. But in that act of getting even, they themselves tip the scales against the other. The only way to get even is to stop the cycle of violence and push for a sense of kindness.
Walk humbly with God. There is a certain segment of people, usually those of wealth and success, who look at their position in life as what they have done. Theirs is an overly prideful attitude that says, “Look at what I have accomplished” – usually followed by, “all by myself.” There is a blindness to the place of God, and this blindness creates a prideful spirit.
Maybe remembering the line from Eucharistic Prayer D – We offer to you from the gifts you have given us – might help keep us humble. Everything we have has been given by God. That does NOT mean that if you have more stuff God loves you more; it means you have a responsibility to give back to God a greater amount.
Micah's pleas, however, didn't gain much traction, especially with those who had a stake in maintaining their power and control over others.
And then comes Jesus. Part of his mission wasn't to interpret the law within its existing framework, but to follow Micah's example and reinterpret the law within God's framework.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those that mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness' sake.
These words describe God's purpose of every holy law and the foundation of the kingdom of heaven. These words turn our values upside down. These words are counter to the culture we live in.
Don't believe me? Just look at the news, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other sites for how we treat others.
Those who exhibit humble tendencies are eaten up and destroyed by the proud and self-righteous. The world and those with real or imagined power will work to stomp out anything that goes against their worldview. People fighting for equality are told they have enough, or that what they want makes them “more special.” Those who mourn are told to get over it.
Jesus is reinterpreting the law, as Micah tried to do, in a way that puts God first and makes God present with us. Some cannot abide by that. Some will continue to stomp out dissenting voices. But God will not be stomped out. God will not be silenced.
All we have to do is remember to put God first in all things. All we have to do is look for how Jesus is reworking the law to turn society upside down. All we have to do is to follow the example Jesus is giving us, continue to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly before God . . . and be prepared to suffer the consequences that an angry world will throw our way. Put another way, following the words of Micah and looking to live out the Beatitudes in our daily life is not for the faint of heart.
The question is: Which way of life are you going to follow – the law or the way of Jesus?