Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12
“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.”
With these first few verses we, the people, put God on trial. We will be the judge and the mountains and the foundations of the earth will be the witnesses. Then God asks us,
“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.”
In this discourse, God asks the people what he has done wrong. Then, He reminds them of what He has done for them. He has helped them; He brought them out of slavery and has continually saved them from one bad event to the next. It is interesting that God never blames the Israelites or points out our wrongdoing. All God does is offer words for his own self-defense. It is now that the people respond to God, knowing that they have nothing to accuse God of. They know that God is right and has always been on their side. Knowing this they want to bring Him offerings. And they inquire what gifts would be acceptable to you?
“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 tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Their offerings went from a small calf, to rivers of oil, and then to human sacrifice. The people, realizing who God is in their lives, are willing to give God what every He wants. And God replies with this,
“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
God does not want physical things; there is nothing, NOTHING, we can offer God but ourselves. God wants Justice, for us to love each other, and to be humble. This is what Jesus’ ministry is all about. This is what he is teaching us, his followers today.
After Jesus calls some of his disciples, a crowd starts to amass and follow him. He comes to a mountain and speaks to his followers. He offers them blessings; nine blessings. Each blessing was addressed to a different hardship in life. Whether the person fell into one or more of these categories, I think just about everyone he was speaking to received a blessing that day. It is crucial to point out that these are not conditional statements. Jesus is not saying that you will be blessed if you become poor. He is not saying that if you do this, then I will do that for you. These blessings are not for something you can change, do, or become. These blessings are exultations of a present human condition. Some would argue that it may be better to read them as “O the blessedness of the poor in spirit! O the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!”[i]
This is a radical shift in our normal thinking of this passage. The Beatitudes are not about us. They are about the people that Jesus is speaking to. I say this because Jesus is giving a blessing to those people and, after all, we cannot bless ourselves. Blessings are bestowed upon others by priests, parents, or those in high positions such as kings. We cannot receive a blessing that was given to someone else.
The other point that we often overlook is that the promises that are given in these blessings are future promises; promises that the person receives in the new age, not today. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” or “for they will inherit the earth.” These promises will not be fulfilled today but after death.
We are still in the season of Epiphany, and since these blessings do not directly apply to us, I think they are here to reveal who Christ is and what his ministry is about. These Beatitudes reveal nine qualities of life. Each one gives Christ the desire to bless these people. Each one is a quality that Christ reveals himself to be. I could spend the next half hour going through each one and describing how the quality is reflected in Christ life. But I’d rather have you ponder this on your own. Though I do, however, want to point out one word that often causes people trouble…meek.
When we think of meek, often we think of a mouse hiding in a corner scared or week, afraid to stand up for themselves. Though this is an accurate definition it is the second and third definition of the word. The primary use of the word and the one the writer intended is: “Enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”[ii] Doesn’t this sound much more like Christ?
Just to be clear on what I’m trying to say; the blessing offered today are not really for us, though we can find comfort in the beatitudes and we can hold them up as qualities of a Christ like life. We also cannot expect these blessings for achievement; as if we achieve the goal of becoming poor in spirit or persecuted for righteousness.
For us today,
our blessing is our hope
of eternal life through our faith in Christ. We cannot take a blessing that was given to someone else but we can walk with Christ and become Christ for others; blessing those who are less fortunate than we are. We can be agents of change to improve the circumstances of others around us. After all, isn’t this what God is telling the people in Micah? All God wants from us is “to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”