For the last few weeks, the gospel lesson has been what we have come to call The Sermon on the Mount. When I was in seminary we had to preach in front of our peers, the faculty and be recorded on videotape. Then we got reviewed and evaluated complete with the video replay. It was kind of like having an autopsy while you were still alive.
Reading the entire Sermon on the Mount at one time, I have wondered how Jesus would have made out in my preaching class. “You started out on a very positive note with all of that ‘blessed are the poor’ stuff but I am unclear why it is you got so negative with that stuff about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands.” “So I am a little confused: are you saying the law is good or that we are forgiven our violations of the law?” “You have an annoying habit of stroking your beard, it is very distracting.”
The role of the prophet was not to predict the future but to challenge and provoke with a warning of the consequences if things do not change. What Jesus seems to be doing in the Sermon on the Mount is to lull the people into a comfortable place with the beatitudes, and then, as my campus pastor said many years ago, “stick the knife in and twist.”
In the language of Poker, Jesus seems to be saying, “I’ll see you the law, and I will raise you an even higher standard.” Back to my preaching class, I can hear the faculty ask, “Where is the good news in this?”
It’s a good question. Jesus does not debunk the merit of keeping the law, but he points out that the law is all about external things: don’t covet your neighbors goods, don’t lie about them, don’t murder them. What Jesus is suggesting, using the hyperbole of eye plucking and hand chopping, is that living in the kingdom of God is also about internal things: the things that you desire, the values you hold yourself to in order to bring the kingdom to our present reality.
And there just is no way to soften that or making it any easier to swallow. Jesus challenges his followers to more than just keep the law, but to strive for a different kind of kingdom; an upside down kind of kingdom where grace, mercy, justice and peace are the desires of our heart.
Here’s the chorus from “What Kind of World Do You Want” by John OndrasiK
What kind of world do you want, think anything
Let’s start at the start, build a masterpiece
Be careful what you wish for, history starts now.