Jesus is astonishing. Jesus is disturbing. Jesus is challenging. Jesus disorders the way things are. Jesus is a disturbance in the field. And yet, Jesus comforts. Jesus consoles. Jesus restores. Jesus loves.
These two things together. It is difficult for me to think of Jesus primarily as a source of commands. “Seek first the kingdom” – in its context, do these words sound like a command, or simply a statement of truth. Jesus reveals the way things really are, and posits a life, a way, which follows naturally from that new understanding. This life, this way, being utterly true, is utterly compelling to those who have come to see and understand. To those, as Jesus might say, who have eyes to see, ears to hear.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus astonishes us with this compelling vision, giving us leave to imagine a life beyond the borders we have always drawn for ourselves. We have lived our foolish little lives, and now Jesus comes along and says, here is something so much larger. How large? A life where the broken and helpless receive all the riches of the kingdom of God. A life where there is no more mourning. A life where the meek, the weak, the ones who get walked all in this life and from whom the strong do nothing but take – because they can – these will receive the whole earth as their blessing.
Look, Jesus says, in this world you try to moderate sin, keep it within certain well-defined bounds. The Pharisees, men like them, men in positions to set bounds and define what shall be accepted, what shall be deemed unacceptable, define these bounds, then hammer away at people who cross them. Forget them and the likes of them. They have their reward already. I'm calling you out of their flimsy kingdom into something far higher and purer and freer.
Listen, everything depends on the reign and rule of God. Follow Jesus, listen to him, and you will understand. He will teach you about this realm. For now it is like a tiny seed, or it is like leaven in dough. You are the ground in which the seed is planted, and you are the dough into which the leaven is kneaded. The kingdom of God, as Jesus says outright to his followers, is in the midst of you (Luke 17:21)
There is therefore no pretension among you, no spiritual status-seeking, no pandering for approval. You have nothing to prove, and nothing to fight for. What you treasure is with God, the things of God, the plan of God and the glory of God and way of God. All the causes of anxiety are things enforced by this world's kingdoms. We've grown so used to anxiety we can hardly imagine life without it, but under God there is no longer any reason to worry. Nor even to return slap for slap (I have nothing to fight for), nor to deny another for the good of myself. If someone asks for my shirt, I can give him my cloak also, for I have no worry of what I will wear. God will provide.
How crazy is that!
And why should I judge anyone. This world is full of name-calling, full of condemnations. Jesus says, even to call someone a fool (a mild epithet these days) is to commit a sin worthy of eternal separation from the Father.
In the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus tells us that the kingdom is for the spiritually helpless, and in many ways throughout his ministry he will teach us that this spiritual category includes us all. At the end of the Sermon he advises us to build our house on a rock, not on sand. And yet, we don't think of the helpless building houses. We think of them, perhaps, as getting rescued, saved, yes, but building a house?
Step into the picture that Jesus paints in this Sermon, live your life in that place, in that “house.” A house of non-retaliation in a world of violence, a place of forgiveness in a world of vengeance, a house of mercy in a world of advantage-taking, a house of mercy in a world of hardened hearts, a house of freedom from anxiety in a world of debilitating worry, a house of meekness and a world that rewards the assertive, the aggressive, the puffed chests, the strutting and cock-sure.
All that – all that! – is going to get washed away by the next tide. Don't worry about. Don't even judge it. Build your own house. The kingdom has come. It's a new kind of living. Step in.