Last night at St. Matthew’s we continued our project to read through the Bible in one year (a good portion of it, anyways!). It was, I thought, another fantastic evening of eating and laughing, talking and praying.
At any rate, the portion of scripture we looked at was Matthew 5-11. A lot of really great stuff was drawn out by people in our discussion. Miriam helped to set this weeks reading in the context of last weeks for us quite nicely by recalling for us that Matthew sets Jesus up as the fulfillment of Israel’s story. This is quite clear in the first four chapters of Matthew as we saw last week. So then, the Beatitudes at the start of Matthew 5 are about Jesus first and foremost. These things are fulfilled in Christ before they are ever any sort of “moral imperative” for the people of God. This is an important point, for the Beatitudes are put matter-of-factly: “Blessed are the meek.” There it is, simply put. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who try really, really hard to be meek.” Just, “Blessed are the meek”.
In a similar fashion Jesus simply states: “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world,” (5.13-14). There’s no talk about exerting much energy to be salt and light. It’s just, “you are.” But we’ll come back to this in a moment.
While he was in prison John the Baptist asks a question of Jesus upon which I think much of this hangs: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (11.3). Of course, we’ll have to wait until we begin reading the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) over the summer before we get a better grasp of Israel’s hopes related to “the one who is to come”. However, Matthew’s point to his readers, to us, is simply YES, yes, this is he. It’s interesting to note how Jesus responds to John’s question, though: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,” (11.4b-6). Compare this with the start of Jesus’ ministry as recorded by Luke. Jesus walks into the temple on the sabbath, stood up, unrolled the scroll and read from it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (4.18). Then he rolls the scroll back up and says (#likeaboss), “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” (4.21). Today. In Jesus, this scripture is fulfilled.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” asks John. “Look around, see and hear.”
OK, let’s return to this whole thing about us being salt and light. In Matthew 5.1 Jesus, like Moses, ascends the mountain to receive a new law from God. Unlike Moses, however, he does not ascend alone but rather brings the disciples and the crowd up with him. Did the disciples follow Jesus up or did he gather them and bring them up? Yes. They followed, but they did so in response to Jesus’ gathering them up into himself. Their following was responsive. So then, to be a follower of Jesus is not simply to hear and see the proclamation that Jesus is the one we’ve all been waiting for, God-in-the-flesh, the bringer of the kingdom. But to be a follower of Jesus is to hear and see that in Christ a new life is opened up to us, a new life which we are invited (demanded!) to step into and live out of: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” (Matthew 5.16). Now, this new law, this new way for God’s people to be, it doesn’t erase or replace the old law, the law of Moses. No, it fulfills it (Matthew 5.17). It is, in fact, more demanding! It demands not simply an outward compliance or mechanistic obedience, it demands our whole selves, our hearts (Matthew 5.21-7.29)!
I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a hard way. Perhaps this is why the road isn’t all that crowded (Matthew 7.13-14). Maybe this load seems too heavy for you. How could anyone possibly follow Jesus along this way of life? In response to this (very good) question I would say two things: (1) Jesus very closely identifies himself with his people (Matthew 10.40-42). To welcome the disciples is to welcome Jesus. Thus, we can only even begin to journey in this way because Jesus himself is this way and the risen and living Jesus Christ attaches himself to us, grasps us, takes us up into himself and makes us his Body. (2) It is a difficult and challenging way, no doubt. To all those who have tried and are trying to follow Jesus in this way hear his words to you: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11.28-30). Jesus will give you rest. The way of Jesus may look like foolishness, it is hidden after all. It is by no means apparent or obvious, hidden from the wise and intelligent but revealed to infants (Matthew 11.25). But it is life and it is rest, and the gentle Jesus will give you rest on and in this way.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 4.17)! Let us receive and enter into it, in Christ Jesus.