Today’s post is the first in a series by Jamie Arpin Ricci around the themes of his just published book The Cost of Community. Jamie is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood. He is planter & pastor of Little Flowers Community, in the inner city of Winnipeg. Jamie is also forming Chiara House, a new monastic community. He is a third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus and is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his wife Kim & son, Micah.
The Sermon on the Mount
Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the poor?
When you stop to consider some of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)- really consider them beyond the casual acceptance that comes with over-familiarization- you cannot help but pause at the absurdity of His words. As I began my journey into the Sermon on the Mount for my book, “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom” (IVPress, 2011), I knew I would facing some challenging texts at some point. However, Jesus wasted no time. Right out of the gate He slaps us with the Beatitudes.
Blessed are those who mourn?
Blessed are the meek?
Blessed are those who are insulted and persecuted?
For a sales pitch, Jesus needs to take a lesson or two from a new play book. He goes on to preach one of the most powerful and controversial “sermons” in human history. Most Christians are familiar with the verses in the text, but far fewer of us were taught to read the whole text as a whole. Instead, we pull out pleasant sound bites- Blessed are the peacemakers; You are the light of the world; the Golden Rule. Yet that is not how Jesus gave us these teachings. You can’t have “Blessed are the peacemakers” without “love your enemies”. You can’t be the light of the world without being poor in spirit. And you can’t live the Golden Rule and not wrestle with His command to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. Jesus gives us an all or nothing proposition with this sermon.
And it is completely absurd! In fact, in the face of this absurdity, many have concluded that Jesus never intended us to actually try to live out His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Rather, it demonstrated the impossibility of achieving righteousness by works. They are only half right (and it’s not that latter). Too often we pick and choose to make our faith more palatable and reasonable. As Tripp York says:
“Christianity is incorrigibly absurd. Everything about it is so incongruent with the way the world seems to work that we have to almost laugh with incredulity. After all, ‘God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe’ (1 Cor. 1:21). If our beliefs are ‘foolishness to the Greeks,’ then do we not deny such foolishness, such scandal, when we attempt to render our beliefs and practices comprehensible to any so-called rational mind?’
Jesus is, indeed, asking the impossible of us in the Sermon on the Mount. No one can possible live according to its standard- no one except Jesus. And it is through Jesus that we are united and empowered by His Holy Spirit as His Body to be about His work- the impossible work of the kingdom of God. Are we not told that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)? If we are willing to step to the cross and beyond to the resurrection life as His people, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is an invitation to a life beyond expectation.
Take some time to read it over- all 3 chapters at once. Read it once or twice a day for 3 weeks. Change up the version. Read it out loud. Put an audio version of it on the MP3 player. Spend some time with the Sermon on the Mount and you will soon discover that what it describes is not merely a noble ethic or program of discipleship. Rather, it is Christ Himself.