Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world was a place where everyone was kind to each other? Where people acted humbly? But it’s not. People can be mean to each other. And I realized, it’s not just those other people who are the problem. I’m a part of the problem, too. I hate to admit it, but when we were discussing these Bible readings in confirmation, I realized that I had some thoughts that God was wanting to address.
There’s a person who really annoys me. She is always grumpy and demanding and critical about everything. (No, it’s not my mom!) This person gets on my nerves so much. But the problem isn’t just that she is mean. Another part of the problem is that I have mean thoughts back at her. In my mind, I picture her working out, trying to lift a weight bar that is too heavy for her and struggling and, I must admit, I kind of have glee just watching her struggle in my mind, because my bad feelings about her are just that strong.
Now, before you judge me, Pastor Bo assured me that he knows you pretty well now, and he knows that both he and you can have those same kinds of thoughts, even if we know they are wrong. And when those kinds of thoughts are present, out slips things we say or do that are unkind to them. Oops.
The problem is that this is not the way God wants us to live. Micah 6.8 says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Doing justice means helping to heal relationships and make the world a better place. Loving kindness is, well, not having a fantasy about someone struggling under a heavy weight just because I despise them. And walking humbly with God means that I don’t see myself as any better than someone else. Yes, that person is mean, but I guess I can be mean, too, and maybe someone else somewhere is happy thinking about something bad happen to me, too.
It would be nice if I could read what God said and simply flip a switch and my heart would change and I would live a life where I am always doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with my God. But there is no switch. There are simply people I don’t like and I often choose to be mean rather than to be kind.
My Christian faith tells me I cannot save myself. Only Jesus can save me. And our text in Matthew today tells us that Jesus taught some similar things to what Micah said, but with even more detail. Jesus came and told everybody that the people on the bottom of society, the people everybody hated – those were the people God was blessing. And God is blessing people who are humble, people who are merciful, people who are peacemakers, and people who are persecuted and hated for trying to do what is right. Of course, that makes me feel even worse, because this means that I am probably not one of the people who gets blessed, because I fall short of living the way that Jesus is teaching about.
But then again, maybe these blessings are for me, because I am realizing now that I am not better than anyone else. I am starting to become more able to be humble and merciful when I realize that God has love and mercy for even me, too, as well as the people I don’t like.
Also, Jesus personally did something that makes this all the more real for me. Jesus hung out with the wrong sort of people and embraced the people everyone hated. So people started hating him, too. And when they hated him, that means they started thinking of bad things that could happen to him, too, and they were happy thinking about that. Bad things like, say, him struggling under the weight of something very difficult to bear. And they didn’t just think it, they made it happen. They made Jesus carry a heavy cross that he struggled to carry, and then he was crucified on it. Jesus took our hatred upon himself so that he could take it away from all of us and change our hearts.
Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that most people think Jesus taking the cross is foolish, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. That’s what I believe. Jesus took on the hatred and the heavy weight so I don’t have to have fantasies about the person in my head struggling under my own hatred for her anymore. And I don’t have to carry a weight anymore, either. Jesus is changing my heart and helping me to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, so that I can live a blessed life of love for others.
Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
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