Olrik, Henrik, 1830-1890. Sermon on the Mount, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55347 [retrieved January 26, 2023]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sankt_Matthaeus_Kirke_Copenhagen_altarpiece_detail3.jpg#.

RCL Year A, Epiphany 4
Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, I Corinthians1:18-31, Saint Matthew 5:1-12

The Season of Epiphany commemorates several manifestations of Jesus as the incarnate Lord. Those commemorations include the Wise Men and their gifts to the infant Jesus betokening his royalty and his divinity; his Baptism in the River Jordan and the heavenly voice declaring him to be God’s Son; his calling of his disciples, Andrew and Peter, and James and John; and his preaching of the kingdom, the subject of today’s and next Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus’ preaching and teaching declare him to be the incarnate Lord, and in this light we should understand and appropriate the Gospel today and next Sunday.

Helpful to me has been to envision Jesus’ teaching and preaching as belonging to a long stretch of different kinds of lessons. At one end of that stretch Jesus can be the firebrand prophet proclaiming the end of time in the traditional terms of Jewish apocalyptic. At the other end he can be the teacher of a cultural and religious revolution turning most all things upside down. Here is where we find him in today’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, also known as the Beatitudes.

Though Jesus is near the beginning of his public ministry, he is attracting large crowds, some of whom had been followers of John the Baptist and came over to Jesus after John’s arrest. He sits down, a little up the mountain, and he speaks and turns most things upside down.

He declares that it is blessed to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, to be persecuted, to be reviled, and to have evil falsely spoken of one on Jesus’ account. He declares blessed most every weakness in most every degraded circumstance. He declares that when Israel, that when we, are in the weakest and most degraded circumstances, that we are blessed. When we perceive we are weakest, we have the most strength, for God is with us. When we feel the worst, we have the protection of God.

To be blessed is to be favored and rewarded by God if not now then at some future time. No wonder the crowds followed Jesus. No wonder they listened to him and felt healed and restored. He takes their wretched hopeless circumstance and places it next to God’s loving and merciful heart.

When you find yourself at the end of your rope; when you think that circumstances leave you no way forward, think about these Beatitudes. They are God’s declaration that no degradation, no abjection, has been fully grasped until we perceive God’s presence and God’s blessing. Jesus declares that there is nothing hopeless about his kingdom. Hope belongs to his kingdom and to those who place their trust in him. As Micah prophesies, the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who redeemed us from slavery and from sin, is not yet finished.