Monday, January 6, 2014

The Power of the Imaginative Story: Matthew (part 3)

As Jesus looked upon the crowds from his vantage point on the side of the mountain, he called them blessed. His disciples, gathered around him as he spoke, must have recognized that Jesus’ words were not spiritual abstractions, but statements of reality. The crowds had come to Jesus, and “they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.” The blessing to which Jesus referred had been experienced in the lives of the people, not simply anticipated as a reward for spiritual purity.

The tone of Jesus’ message shifts as his attention moves from the crowds to his disciples. He now speaks of blessing that comes to “you”—those now gathered before him:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

These are words about vocation, the vocation of following Jesus, of learning anew what it means to be the people of God. There will be persecution—the history of Israel’s prophets confirms the inevitability of resistance. But there will also be the embodiment of God’s intentions for the rescue of the world, an intention first spoken to the ancient patriarch Abram as he was summoned from his nomadic life into a destiny that would result in the nation of Israel:

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

The blessing that Jesus extended to the crowds brought healing and life. The blessing that he gave to his followers drew them into God’s mission. Once again, this blessing was no abstraction; the blessing came as the result of responding to the call of Jesus to follow him. Those who put their trust in Jesus would not create a new religion—they would renew and enliven God’s original intention for Israel for the sake of the entire world.

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