Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dream the impossible dream

A Chinese man was given a copy of the Sermon on the Mount. After reading it he exclaimed, "But if everyone lived like this there would be universal peace in the world!"

Even atheists agree that it is the most perfect recipe for peace and harmony. It is perhaps Jesus's greatest claim to fame as a great teacher. He is universally acclaimed as a great philosopher.

But the point of the Sermon on the Mount is not to show us how we ought to live. Indeed it is quite the opposite. It is a sermon that shows us how it is impossible to live.

Expressions like "Love your enemies" and "Turn the other cheek" are hedged around with provisos by Pastors as they are translated into more achievable recipes for living.

But Jesus states quite plainly that He has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. Not one iota of the Law will pass away. He says that your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law else you have no hope of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

He then goes on to reinforce the Law, making it even more stringent. When Jesus equates being angry with your brother with murder and looking at a woman with lust in your heart, even if you do nothing about it, with adultery, he is raising the bar to such a level that no-one can clear it. Look, he says, sin in so serious that you had better gouge your eyes out than look at porn and better to cut your hand off than use it to fiddle your expenses.

He is equally hard on divorce or swearing. As for retaliation when you are put upon; you are to accept persecution and make yourself vulnerable for more.

Quite frankly, these are just not humanly achievable standards. And if they were Jesus would just raise the bar even higher. These are standards that are meant to bring us down, be we ever so high. Even what we would regard as our acts of righteousness: giving to the needy, fasting and prayer are tainted with hypocrisy.

What can be done then?

In Matt 7:7 we are told to ask and to seek and to knock. This way we will find the answer, it will be given to us and the door to heaven will be opened. We need to stop relying on ourselves, on our own efforts, on our own righteousness. God has provided the answer in the death of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. First we need to humble ourselves and recognise our need for a savior, for unless we feel the need why would we ever ask? Then we need to ask. Then we will receive.

Isn't that all too easy? No, for as Jesus says, Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Haven't you met those people who will take anything on offer. They would rather spend their afternoons cutting out coupons to pay the grocery bill than work for a living. Those who accept lifts to church just to save the gas in the tank, who sign on for free lunches when they have food enough in their fridge. Often you find people who are just the opposite, people who are too proud to accept charity.

George Bernard Shaw once said something to the tune of "Christianity is a beggar's charter. I'll pay my own debts."

It is true that the default position for a Christian is service, but when we are in need we need to be able to accept charity - the word in the KJV of 1 Cor 13 that is translated 'love' in modern versions. We are never in greater need than in our need of a savior. We should always accept that charisma. He will know us as His own when we do the will of the Father. The strange thing is that once we have put our trust in Jesus his standards don't seem so impossible. Oh, we won't get the pass mark of 100%, but we have this constant forgiveness of our falling short. His ideals seem more achievable because we have the Holy Spirit working within. It is a lifelong plan of approximating ourselves to Jesus with our setbacks met with encouragement rather than disparagement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Terry,
Glad to see you staying active mentally. I can appreciate your thoughts on righteousness from the Scripture. My enlightenment on this matter came about from one of my college classes long ago when I was tasked to do exegesis on Isaiah 64:6. I had great trouble finding reference to "filthy rags" but was able to validate it in context in extrabiblical sources. I was horrified! It was the name of castoff rags which were twisted up and used by women once a month and then discarded outside of the camp.
It was impressed on my mind that the best man can do is thought of as unclean and castoff by God, making the imputed righteousness of Jesus a certain necessity for a believer.
Your CLL friend and brother in Christ,
Jack Butrum