Over the past week, I have been ruminating on and marinating in the Sermon on the Mount. It was so tempting last week to immediately opine on the breaching of the Capitol Building by protesters and the aftermath. Yet, with the help of my wife, I realized that would be the common thing to do in our society and one of the reasons we find ourselves where we are as a culture—too quick to speak and too quick to get angry. It is time for believers to put James’s words into practice, so that we can spend time in the Scriptures, letting them mold and shape us rather than the culture around us forming who we are. The Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start. Here we find the essence of what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in this fallen world.
To begin with, it is important to note the verses just prior to his sermon:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25)
Jesus began his ministry after returning from his encounter with Satan with miraculous healings. As a result, the news spread, and people from all over poured into the area with hope of a healing touch. What is important to note is who makes up this crowd. They are from different regions, which meant they had significant cultural and religious differences, like we do as Americans who live in different parts of the country. We can assume that there was some animosity toward one another because they did things differently and had different beliefs about their religion and how to live it out. The Decapolis, for example, was known for its paganism, while Jerusalem was the center for the Pharisees; thus, opposite ends of the religious spectrum were present in the same crowd. Simply put, Jesus didn’t allow the differences to impede his ministry to all of them.
Then we are told by Matthew that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down, where his disciples came to hear him teach. Is it unreasonable to think that they were uncomfortable with some of folks who had gathered? I think not. I suspect they were questioning why their rabbi would engage and be merciful to some of these people. For this reason, I think Jesus began his sermon with these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When one files for bankruptcy, there are several options. First, there are Chapters 11, 12, and 13, which basically ask for a postponement on paying debt until the person or company can return to financial solvency. With each of these, there is an agreement between the parties owing and the parties owed how the debt will be paid. The assumption both parties have is the debt can be paid and the person or company can one day resume business debt-free. However, with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor acknowledges he has no way to pay the debt; he is helpless to remedy it at all. Thus, under the conditions of this type of bankruptcy, everything the person or company owns is liquidated with the proceeds going to the lender(s). Anyone filing Chapter 7 is facing the reality of both their helplessness and that they will be starting over from scratch.
In a nutshell, being poor in spirit means our minds and hearts filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy with God. We acknowledge we are helpless to pay back our debt, that nothing we do will make even the tiniest dent in it. We are giving up on our efforts and humbly coming before the Lord to bail us out of the mess we have created.
The Sermon starts with the blessedness of being poor in spirit because the only way we will be able to follow Jesus and obey his commands is if we recognize we are spiritually bankrupt. Jesus came because “God so loved the world.” The “world” includes people very different from us, different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles, who often look and speak very differently. Yet, they all have one thing in common, which Jesus demonstrated to the crowd which had gathered—they are loved by God because they were created in his image.
The first step in healing the divisions among us is to recognize first that God loves those with whom we disagree, sometimes vehemently. The second step, which can lead to our disagreements to be more civil, is to acknowledge our own spiritual bankruptcy. We are not better than those with whom we disagree. We are not loved more by God than they. We are all equally bankrupt before him. Our debts are huge and we are unable to pay them. Only when we recognize this in our hearts will be able to experience the blissfulness of following the Lord.
All the Beatitudes flow from this one, and the remainder of the Sermon from the Beatitudes. I am going to spend some time over the coming weeks tying the Beatitudes into the rest of the Sermon, how they relate and the implications for living our daily lives. Contemplating our own spiritual bankruptcy is a good place to start. I hope you will join me on this journey.
© Jim Musser 2021