As a Meekonomist, I spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to apply Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. This three chapter snippet of scripture has formed a beach-head of insight and direction for me in my spiritual walk since I was a teenager. There are some challenging commands and pointed suggestions in here to be sure and to follow them and walk that way is definitely counter-cultural and counter intuitive but there is nothing in here that can’t be lived out for those who earnestly try.
Jesus opens his famous sermon with an eight point poem, possibly a song that mirrors a song that would have been well known to his listeners. It’s kind of funny when you think about it but Jesus was the Weird Al Yankovik of his day and he starts his profoundly counter-cultural message by parodying King David.
Jesus opens his sermon; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) which is a clear parody of David’s first Psalm which says;
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers [Psalm 1:1-3]
Centuries of dour men have trained us Christians not to see humor or sarcasm in the bible but I see this as an incredibly funny and sarcastic moment in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus stands up in front of hundreds of people, clears his throat and starts to sing, probably to the same tune, “Blessed is the one..” His audience starts to think “oh yes this sounds familiar” until they are sucker punched with the next line, “who has nothing.”
What did he say? He may as well have gotten up there and danced around in a red leather jacket singing “Eat It” or started his sermon with Jingle Bells, Santa Smells!
Jesus’ Jewish audience had been taught for centuries that blessing came from following the law and that in so doing they would prosper. But Jesus opens his sermon by saying that wasn’t enough and that blessing would actually come from releasing your hold on possessions and prosperity. In so doing you would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. Within that first sentence, just 13 words, of his teaching Jesus has turned the entire history of Jewish theological thought on its head.
I know what you’re thinking, he didn’t say blessed are the poor, he said blessed are the poor in spirit so he isn’t condemning the wealthy, I can still strive for my material comforts. Not at all! Have you ever told someone who was going through a hard time that you would be with them in spirit? What you mean by that is that you will be thinking about them and supporting them in what little way you can from afar. Being with someone in spirit is compassionate and supportive and leads to active helping when the situation permits. That’s what Jesus means here, you don’t have to actually be poor but you do have to at least identify with the poor and to do that you need to release your hold on things.
In Luke’s Gospel we see three different stories of people who are told, in various different ways that the way to achieve greatness in God’s Kingdom is to release your hold on possessions. Luke 18:18-29, is the story of the rich young ruler, who is told that following the law isn’t enough and he must sell all he has and give it to the poor. Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus the tax collector is so moved by Jesus acceptance of him that he gives half his possessions to the poor on the spot. And Luke 21:1-4, the widow who gives just a few copper coins out of her meager existence is said to have given more than all the others.
What all of these stories have in common is the fact that entry into the Kingdom will cost you everything you have. We don’t know if the rich young ruler ever took Jesus’ advice but we do know that it made him sad which leads me to believe that he wasn’t able to do it. Zacchaeus on the other hand was overjoyed when he did it and the widow seemed quite content to live on what she had left.
And this isn’t just a New Testament teaching either. The entire concept of tithing is a faithful allocation of your best for God with the promise that by releasing your hold on material possessions God would bless you.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. [Malachi 3:10]
The blessing that you receive from God is not however necessarily monetary. The Kingdom of God is not a “health and wealth” gospel. The early Christians understood this and lived it out.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. [Acts 2:44-45]
Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus drives the point home by reminding people that in order to serve God in His Kingdom they must release their hold on things.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. [Matthew 6:24]
That’s it. Blessed are those who release their hold on possessions for they already live within the Kingdom of Heaven.
So what’s your attitude toward possessions?