In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is trying to define what Kingdom Life looks like. Jesus is trying to take a group of people who have always thought about life in one way and change the way they think. To take a group of people who have been formed by culture and change their perspective to be more in line with the Kingdom of God. Not that Jesus’s audience thinks wrong. They just happen to live in a post-exile culture that is still full of foreign oppression, and it’s the only world they know. Jesus isn’t condemning their worldview, he’s just trying to offer a different way. What does it look like to be Kingdom people.
It’s very similar to the Ten Commandments and the Law at Sinai. Israel had been rescued from slavery, but all they knew was Egypt, slavery, and Pharaoh. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the law: not a bunch of rules, but a guide for how to live life as God’s people. Now, just like Moses, Jesus goes up on the Mountain and shares a guide for how to live life; what it means to be the people of God. Jesus then begins these remarks by challenging his listeners to change their value systems and what is important. The things that world values is not true success. True success, is found in something much more meaningful…and according to the world, much too foolish.
Here’s the thing, most Christians know that success as defined by the world, is not the ultimate goal. Very few Christians would think they should measure success of life based on the same traditional ways the world measures success. Very few Christians think success is about possessions, power, and popularity. Followers of God realize Christianity should be different. We want to be Christians at work. We want Christianity and Christian values to influence everything we do. Problem is, we don’t always know what that means. For instance, what’s the difference between a doctor and a Christian doctor? Or a teacher and a Christian teacher?What’s the difference between a regular business (say a restaurant or retail store) and a Christian business? What’s the difference between a school, and a Christian school? It has to be more than just that we post a bible verse on our wall, that we pray together with everyone once in a while, or even that we try to be honest. We can work hard, be honest, and help others and that makes us really good employees, but that doesn’t necessarily make us Christians at work. Being a Christian in our vocation, or in life, has to be more.
Again, the problem is, we don’t know how to be different, so we end up falling back on the same measurements of success that we’ve been taught from the greater culture. So we run our business and we look at profit margin and growth prospects…and oh by the way we also pray with our employees and try to be honest and kind. We run our schools and we focus on retention rates and test scores…and oh by the way we also have chapel. We work as nurses, accountants, or engineers…and we try to be honest and kind, and not steal from work.
But Jesus is calling us to something radically different from that, something so radical that we’re not even sure it makes sense. Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the persecuted. These aren’t exactly traits that we hold up as honorable. We don’t often use these as compliments. (I’m so proud of that employee, they are really meek. That business is a great business, they are always being persecuted. I wish our business was like them.) And because we don’t think of them as honorable traits, we kind of write them off. Surely Jesus didn’t mean for these to be physical traits. There must be some spiritual realization. And while there is a spiritual realization, there is also a physical reality. There are very real implications to living out these truths. Jesus isn’t just trying to get us to measure success by slightly different rules. Jesus is trying to change the game completely. Jesus is trying to help us reimagine what’s important in the first place. Winning is not about who has the most points at the end of the game. Winning is about who is most like Jesus.
So what might that look like? What if in everything we do, we saw our role as being a servant who works along side others helping them find a sense of dignity, and empowering others to rise above their present circumstances to a better place. This would be accomplished through love and support of the other. However, while others rise above, we don’t rise with them. The goal is not for all of us to rise about. Instead, while others rise, we stay where we are so that we may serve and empower others, helping others to rise out of their present circumstances. Success is then measured not in my ability to become greater, but in my ability to help others become greater. It’s an upside down fairy tale, but it may be the way to fully embody the love of Jesus in the world.