On January 6th, I had tuned into watch the formal certification of the electoral votes tallied after the November presidential election. As the senators were on the floor making their speeches, suddenly a news reporter was frantically describing what was happening on the Capitol steps. You could hear pounding on the door, then the shattering of glass. Within minutes, the Capitol was overrun by a mob of people. I sat there, like many, shocked and saddened by what I was witnessing.
In the days since, I would best describe my feelings as ones of mourning. I knew a few people, believers, who had gone to the Capitol for “stop the steal” rallies. I wasn’t exactly excited about their presence for reasons that will become clear in the days ahead as I examine the implications of the Sermon on the Mount for those who claim to follow Jesus. I don’t believe any of them took part in the breach of the Capitol Building, but I have not seen or heard any mourning on their part for what happened. Instead, I have heard, “Well, it was ANTIFA,” or people have emphasized the ones who were there that were peaceful, or changed their focus to why people are so upset, blaming liberals.
This is why I think it so important to ruminate on and marinate in the Sermon on the Mount. We are such a divided country, including within the Church. Yet, this is nothing new. Divisions first emerged between Cain and Abel. Aaron and Miriam had a dispute with Moses resulting from jealousy. The kingdom of Israel split in two over the rule of Rehoboam. Throughout the 1st Century, the Jews had nothing to do with the Gentiles or the Samaritans, which is why the early Church struggled with divisions over membership. When I was a new Christian, the divisions were between Protestants and Catholics, and between those embracing Calvinist theology or Armenian theology. Then, increasingly, the divisions grew between so-called liberal churches and conservative churches, which is where we still are today. The difference today, however, is the divisions are less about theology and much more about political leanings.
In all of these divisions, the other side was and is seen as the enemy. This is particularly true through the megaphone of social media. Over the past five years, in particular, I have seen so many believers turn on one another because of their political beliefs. I have been skewered by both sides when I have attempted to be a peacemaker. And churches have split over political beliefs.
I think Jesus identifies the problem—spiritual arrogance. If one is “poor in spirit,” as described in the first Beatitude, he recognizes his spiritual bankruptcy. He realizes, regardless of his status or beliefs, he is totally dependent on the Lord for his salvation and his very life. He is in no way better than anyone else, or loved by God more. This is why Jesus points out that before we judge (critique) anyone, we should first recognize our own deficiencies. Doing so prevents us from criticizing harshly or arrogantly, but rather in love. And notice the ludicrous illustration that Jesus uses:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
When we are poor in spirit, our sins, our faults are our first focus and are larger because they are in the foreground of our minds and hearts. We are humble because we recognize how helpless we are without the Lord. As a result, this helps lower the “temperature” of our anger and judgments against other people because we know they are equally loved by God (remember who was among the crowds) and that we are no less sinners than they.
So it follows that if we are poor in spirit, then we can mourn, for ourselves (as did John Newton in his hymn, Amazing Grace), and for others who are caught up in sin. Jesus exemplifies this when he said, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37) And while on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) In both, there is a sense of mourning for the beliefs and behavior of others, and, more importantly, a willingness to forgive.
What we have witnessed previously in the Church, and currently, should, as it did me, give us pause about what Jesus has called us to do as his followers. We are not called to fight with our fellow believers; we’re not even called to fight our enemies. We are called to love them, pray for them, and do good to them.
The question we all as believers must ask ourselves is, how am I behaving toward my fellow believers and toward those I perceive as my enemies? Does it look at all like Jesus and his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount? If not, the first step is to recognize our own spiritual bankruptcy, and then that of others. The second is to mourn over both.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.