Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” For years we saw this as just a religious statement, like an encouragement, but with no real meaning. “Surely our inheritance is in heaven”, we thought, “not on earth.” Especially for the meek. The meek just get trodden down on earth and don’t inherit anything here. What could Jesus possibly be talking about here?
But the statement actually says the meek shall inherit the earth. Could it be that Jesus’ followers will inherit the earth, not through force, but through the principles Jesus shares about in this wonderful Sermon? Does this mean that God is not going to destroy the world, but that he has a plan for it in the future, when violence will be swept aside and the meek shall inherit all things? This is what Jesus said. Yes, this is God’s plan.
Looking at this Sermon as a Jew in Jesus’ time you immediately know Jesus is speaking about the renewal of the world. He isn’t speaking about what will get us to heaven. He isn’t speaking about what will get us saved spiritually. He isn’t giving us spiritualised lessons, which he doesn’t really mean us to practicalize. He is actually talking about behaviour patterns, that stem from a new renewed heart, that turn our neighbours and our enemies towards God, and thus move us all 7 towards renewed land, God’s promised land for the world. This much is clear to the Jewish ear of Jesus’ day.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” This refers the Jewish hearer straight back to Genesis 1, and the Jewish audience in Jesus’ time knew this immediately. Adam and Eve were the children of God, and they had a commission to rule over the world. This is what it means in Genesis 1 to be made in the image of God. God made Adam and Eve rulers, like him, to rule over his creation. That is what the text in Genesis 1 says. And God blessed them and told them to have dominion.
Now Jesus says that this sonship, this rulership, is executed through peacemaking. This is the type of dominion Jesus is speaking about. God’s kingdom doesn’t come by force, but by reconciling service. His kingdom doesn’t come the way evil kingdoms come. His kingdom draws others together through peacemaking. It heals hurts, reconciles differences, breaks down walls. The main way this can happen is through serving our neighbours and enemies. This is the content of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also said he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. But here he says the opposite. What he meant is that when we come in peace many will be opposed to us. The Sermon on the Mount says the same: that we will be persecuted. But then he says we should rejoice, and keep making peace.
Next Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Here he was referring to those who bring peace and service, and who are rejected and who are persecuted for doing so. Our light doesn’t shine through military conquests, or through commercial exploits, or other acts of dominance. It shines through suffering. This is the context in which Jesus is speaking in the Sermon, and the context Jesus lived out for us as an example. His life is his Sermon.
Once again, Jesus puts Genesis 1 right at the centre of his Sermon on the Mount. “You are the light of the world.” The Jewish person listening to that Sermon in Jesus’ time immediately sees the connection between Jesus’ Sermon and the creation of the universe. In Genesis 1 light is the presence of God bringing creation into goodness and order.
This is primary to the Jewish heritage, how they saw themselves and their call in the world. Their nation was called to be light to others, to bring order and blessing to the world. Jesus is telling them that that call is now embodied in him, and for them to inherit that call they must become his disciples and follow his suffering service to the nations, rather than to seek their enemy’s submission and destruction.
The Jews see immediately that in preaching the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is announcing a New Creation. He is saying that God has come again in his light to bring goodness and order to the world, and his suffering disciples are the ones God is using to do that. What a paradox. Jesus’ messages are full of paradoxes, only because this is not the way we usually think. But this is God’s way, and the way of his kingdom.
Jesus brings sonship, rulership and light out of Genesis 1 and applies them to his coming in the First Century, to his new kingdom, and to the life and principles he is sharing in the Sermon on the Mount. There is no doubt what he means by this Sermon. He is speaking about God’s promises to bring newness to the land, to bring a new heart, a new creation to our world, and to use the meek to progress this in the nations.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is his manifesto of his kingdom. In announcing his new kingdom, Jesus is saying this is how the kingdom comes into our hearts and then progresses into the world through our lives. In this way, through God’s new believing community, who follow the Messiah, God is fulfilling his promises to come again to us in his presence, to bring down our enemies and to renew our land. But he isn’t doing it the way we expected. He isn’t doing it through our violence, but through our forgiveness of the violence of others. This is the way he did it on the cross, and the way he calls us to do it. This is his kingdom. These are his promises fulfilled. This is his New Creation: it is God and his people bringing mercy, forgiveness and new life to those trodden down, and to others who are caught in the web of selfishness and violence. We are witnesses, so they may escape and be saved.
Many today reject outright Jesus’ teachings in this sermon. They say things like Jesus wasn’t always meek and mild, but he had strong words for people and he used a whip to cleanse the temple. The inference from this is that we should not follow the Sermon the Mount in dealing with our enemies, but we should use more political or pragmatic methods, such as state sponsored violence against groups of people, or laws prohibiting groups from coming to our nation. This is exactly what the Jews of Jesus’ time wanted. They wanted a political fix to their enemies, but Jesus came to offer them a different way of dealing with other people: one of suffering, serving and reconciliation. He came to offer us the innocent way. This is not a guarantee this will work in our life time. If it does not work, then we suffer – our suffering then becomes a witness to renew others. So those who suffer today own tomorrow, they are the lights of our future, as the Spirit uses that suffering to transform the powers. This is what the early church achieved. It is true that Jesus had strong words and wasn’t always meek and mild.
It is true he cleansed the temple. But these strong words, and this whip, were directed against the church of his time, not against his enemies, not against the church’s enemies. It was the people of God who had been so blessed, that should have been reaching out to serve others, but weren’t. These people were instead fostering the “enemy and fear” model, so they could blame others and then commit violence against them. It was the temple that was supposed to serve the nations, that instead only served the interests of the people of God. These strong acts of Jesus were exactly in line with his teachings in his Sermon on the Mount. He was not saying the church should take a whip against its enemies. He was saying that the house of prayer for all nations should love and serve their enemies.
The way Jesus was announcing for his people to engage enemies was through his new community. It isn’t to be done by conflict, but by mercy. The new community, in reaching out to care for others of different classes and backgrounds, introduces a new dynamic into our social fabric. It shows a new way of overcoming evil. The new community displays a different kind of protest, one of noncooperation with evil and selfish practices. In the Jesus movement change comes to the community through selfgiving and mercy towards others, including enemies.