“You have heard it said….But I say to you…” John the Baptist had prepared the way and gotten the people ready for god’s action in the world—ready for someone, who was supposed to be very special, to come after him. One so powerful that he would bring god’s very breath and spirit into the world, along with a cleansing and purifying fire. But John got arrested for this rebel rousing, as he irritated and made those in power nervous. After John’s arrest, one of his students, named Jesus, burst onto the scene, coming out of isolation in the wilderness, declaring, “Transform! For the rule of heaven is within your grasp!”
As this Jesus wandered around proclaiming this revolutionary message about god’s arrival and his coming to remove and destroy all earthly rule and rulers, he came across some fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. He called them to join him in this godly revolution by saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers for humans!” Excited that the overthrow of the occupying and tyrannical Roman Empire was at hand, these men dropped everything to follow this Jesus who seemed to be fulfilling what John had foretold. With these followers, Jesus then continued his wandering and preaching, reaching out to the outcasts on the margins, healing and welcoming those who were isolated by society because of their illnesses and abnormal, disturbing behaviors and lifestyles.
After generating huge crowds of spectators as a result of this behavior, Jesus then went up on a mountain in order to overlook the crowds and teach his new-found students. Here they hoped Jesus would reveal what he meant when he said that the rule and reign of heaven is within grasp, that he would reveal what his revolution was all about. However, Jesus’ students and the crowds quickly learned, from the very first word, that his revolution was unlike anything they had ever encountered—for he began fundamentally challenging all of the accepted and conventional “wisdom” of the world as they knew it.
We have heard it said, “Blessed are the rich, for they have the resources and power to live a fulfilled life.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who are made poor by the spirit, for they are under the rule of god, relying on his care and provision.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who are happy and laughing, for they are enjoying and getting the most out of life.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who mourn the injustice and brokenness of the world, for they will be comforted when god sets things right.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are the strong, powerful, and proud, for they can control their own destinies.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who are gentle and humble, for god will give them the entire earth.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who do not hunger or thirst, for they are satisfied with life and are content.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who are unsatisfied and who hunger and thirst for justice in the world, for god will satisfy them with his justice that they seek.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are the competitive, for they will climb the ladder in life and be successful.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who back down and show mercy to others, for god will give them mercy when they need it themselves.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who seek and pursue all the many and various good things in life, for they will be able to have it all.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who seek the one and only important thing in life, for they will find god.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who defend themselves and fight for their rights, for they will get what they want in life.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who release their rights to make peace with others, for they are being children of god himself.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who are able to avoid suffering and rejection, for their lives will be easy and comfortable.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who suffer and are rejected for the sake of justice, for they are living under the rule of god.”
We have heard it said, “Blessed are those who are popular and famous, for they have the love and esteem of the world.” But Jesus says to us, “Blessed are those who are hated and despised by the world, for they have the love and esteem of god himself.”
We have heard it said, “It doesn’t really matter how you live in life and you don’t have to really obey the commands of god, for god’s love and promises cover it all.” But Jesus says to us, “Your life matters, people will look at how you live and see the god you worship. Do not think I have come to get you out of obedience, for those who do not walk in my teachings have no place in the rule of god.”
We have heard it said, “Do not break the murder laws of the land or else you will end up in prison.” But Jesus says to us, “Do not even be angry with others and do not speak destructive words about them, for such hatred separates you from god himself. Therefore, reconcile the disputes among you when they start, so they do not fester and escalate.”
We have heard it said, “Do not have sexual relations with someone other than your spouse.” But Jesus says to us, “Do not even look at another person with lust, for such thoughts turn another human being into an object for your pleasure. This using and objectification of others must be cut off at the source so that you are not led to your destruction by your lusts.”
We have heard it said, “Do not divorce, but, if you have to, make sure it is official.” But Jesus says to us, “Do not divorce or have multiple sexual relationships at all, for anything other than lifelong monogamous relationships are ultimately harmful and using of others.”
We have heard it said, “Keep your vows or oaths when you can.” But Jesus says to us, “Do not make vows or oaths of allegiance at all, for you cannot control the future and your loyalty and allegiance belongs to god alone. Just live your life by keeping your word, but do not promise more than you can provide for you never know which way god will lead you.”
We have heard it said, “Retribution and payback is justice, wrongdoers must be punished.” But Jesus says to us, “Do not resist an evil person, for by resisting them you only embolden them in their ways—let them run themselves into the ground. When you are attacked or cheated, do not defend yourself, but shame the offender by offering the rest of yourself to them as well.”
We have heard it said, “Love those who are good to you, but disown those who are bad to you and if all else fails, it is even ok to kill them.” But Jesus says to us, “Love your enemies, pray for them and do good to them because god himself loves his enemies. Loving those who love you in return is not special—everyone does that. Be different, be extraordinary, be like god himself—love everyone, even your enemies.”
As we listen to Jesus teach, we see that Jesus unashamedly attacks the ways we have been taught to see and live in the world and then gives us a radically different path. Can you feel his words just tearing at the foundations of everything we hold dear, everything that we accept as good, right, and true? Jesus tells us that god and his kingdom have broken into our world and he shows us how this kingdom is fundamentally opposed to the ways we have been taught to live. Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying, “You have heard it said….But I say to you…” Will we listen? Will we let Jesus challenge the very ground that we stand on? Let him challenge the very assumptions and wisdom that the world has convinced us are “good”? We have heard the world teach us one way to live, we hear Jesus teach us another. Whose authority will we listen to? Which path will we choose? Amen.