Hello, readers. In 2015 I wrote a series of short reflections for the season of Lent based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Because I still find that particular set of Jesus’ teachings to be both compelling and foundational, I’ve decided to revisit that series in a different way, re-imagining the sermon through the eyes of a first-century resident of the Galilee region who becomes part of the crowd that follows Jesus and witnesses his teachings.
To set the stage for this year’s Lenten readings on the Sermon on the Mount, which will begin next week, this week’s entry will serve as an introduction to the characters and the scene in which the story plays out. I hope you enjoy this series…please comment on how you might be hearing or seeing the story differently through this creative re-telling.
I really didn’t plan on following him. I was just trying to hang back at the edge of the crowd to see what all the fuss was about.
I was surprised at how unremarkable he was when I finally got a glimpse. I’m not sure what I expected…maybe someone taller, handsomer, more visually compelling.
It was that voice that got me. Not loud, deep or booming. Actually it was kind of soft. Gentle. Kind.
But there was a volume to it. A timbre. Listening to him speak was almost like listening to a song. Like a melody that simply demanded your attention.
There was a kind of understated authority about it. You heard him because you wanted to, not because he demanded it.
“Repent,” I heard him say. But not in the way the Pharisees said it. With them, the word was filled with venom. They spit it from their mouths with angry eyes and pointed fingers.
For them, it meant “You! It’s your fault! If you weren’t so immoral, so unclean, we wouldn’t be in this spot. Exiled in our own country, occupied by the Empire, under the thumb of the pagans and those sell-out Herodians. How can God’s kingdom ever come if you continue sinning?! Change your evil ways before it’s too late or prepare to endure eternal punishment!”
But when he said it, it was different. Not just the words, but the tone. “You’ve been following the wrong story. The way to peace can never be found through war. Shalom cannot be achieved through violence. The beloved community doesn’t come through power and privilege. It only comes through humble lives and hearts. I know this is a radical reorientation for you. But it really is The Way.”
It wasn’t just a simple call to apologize for personal misdeeds. It sounded more like an invitation to a new reality.
But then everything he said was loaded. With meaning, yes, but also with very political undertones. His meaning could not be misunderstood. No wonder the poor and the lame and the outcasts were so enthralled with him, and the religious leaders were so ticked off.
Of course, all this was what we’d been hearing John say for months as he was calling people to baptism down at the Jordan. I overheard someone say they were cousins. He echoed John’s urgency, but there was something…more. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
The words resounded in my mind. It was like he was saying that we should expect something unexpected. Something different than the stories we’d always been taught to believe.
Something beyond all the rules and regulations.
Not something contrary to the Law, but something that both included it and was somehow bigger. More…complete.
I kept hearing him talk about light. Shining in the darkness. He quoted the Prophet, and somehow we all understood that what he was saying was that a new movement was starting. Here. In Galilee.
None of it made sense. It was so different than everything we’d ever been told by our teachers and leaders.
But somehow it just sounded so…true. So real.
I realized I had lapsed into sort of a trance as I noticed people around me starting to break apart. I tried to locate him but he had blended into the crowd.
I stood still for a minute, not quite knowing what to do.
Should I try to find him? I had so many questions I wanted to ask.
But something inside me seemed to tell me to just wait. To let what I’d just heard sit in my mind for a bit. To try to figure out what it all could mean.
Next week: Part 1 — Gathering on the Mountainside