Welcome back as we continue our Lenten experience of the Sermon on the Mount through the eyes and ears of a young 1st Century Galilean. If you are joining the series midway, you can access the previous installments using the links below:
A light breeze washed up the hillside from the sea, carrying with it the fresh scent of olive and pomegranate and wildflowers. It felt as if we were all being swept up in it, like we had become so light we could be lifted off the ground and carried away with him to someplace far away and safe.
All the things we had been taught were so important were starting to come apart and blow away like chaff in the wind.
The teacher continued:
“All these things you hold on too so tightly—these beliefs in control and privilege, in the systems you build to protect yourselves—why do you treasure them so deeply? Why put your faith in things that can be destroyed like rusting metal or moth-eaten fabric? These things can be taken away by thieves in a moment…they have no ability to endure. Instead, treasure the things of the blessed community of Yahweh, which are eternal. Those things can’t be destroyed by rust or eaten by moths or stolen by thieves.”
What did we really treasure? The land, mostly, I suppose. Our land that was under occupation once again by yet another pagan ruler.
But hadn’t Yahweh promised us this land? Were we wrong to want to protect it, defend it, to be free within it?
That momentary feeling of lightness began to fade to a heavy sense of doubt. Yes, we could put all he said into practice and redeem our people. We could learn to become less self-centered and more concerned with others. We might even learn to forgive our enemies.
Then I remembered my earlier thought….Maybe the land was just a signpost. But to what?
“Your eye is the lamp you see by. If your eye is healthy, you see what is right and true. But if your eye is not healthy, all you see is really darkness. You won’t even know how distorted your vision is. You’ll think that darkness is light.”
There he went again with that talk about light. But how were we seeing darkness? What were we missing?
“If you try to serve two masters, will you not love the one who serves your loyalties and despise the other? You cannot serve both Yahweh and mammon.”
Mammon…wealth…land. Those were symbols of stability, of autonomy.
But were they also symbols of something else? Of something that kept us from fully experiencing the blessed community of the heavens?
Certainly, our people had seen how fleeting those things could be. Every time we thought we had fully possessed the land, another invading army would overrun us and send our people into exile and slavery.
Where moth and rust destroy. Where thieves break in and steal.
Were these merely the “treasures on earth” he referred to?
Were we serving the treasures of land and wealth and stability and control, all the while believing that was how we were supposed to serve Yahweh?
Had our “vision” been distorted? If we were missing the point of Torah, was it because we were missing the bigger point of our relationship to Yahweh?
Were we living in the darkness of thinking our nation and our God were the same thing?
Were we fighting to protect something that had been intended to point us toward God but had instead become our god?
Another breeze blew across the slope and the feeling of lightness began to return. I still didn’t fully understand what the Teacher was saying, but I started to sense that this truth was something deeper and more profound than any of us had ever even considered.
“Why do you worry about so many things…what you’ll eat or what you’ll wear? What people will think of you? There are so many more important things. Do birds worry about their meals? Do flowers fret over their colors or fragrance? Even Solomon, with all his wealth, couldn’t create fabrics more beautiful than the fields in spring or put more food on the table than the earth would produce. How can your worrying make your life any longer or more valuable? Do you not trust Yahweh to provide what you need just as Yahweh provides for the birds and the flowers? You despise the gentiles, and yet you think just like them!”
It was true, wasn’t it? We prayed daily for Yahweh to care for our people, to make our crops abundant, to care for our herds. We begged for the return of our land from the Romans and our freedom from the Herods.
But then we went right on hating everything and everyone that got in our way.
And why? Why would we expect God to act on our behalf and yet we would not lift a finger to change the attitudes that drove our behaviors?
Did we really trust Yahweh? Or did we just want Yahweh to endorse our own projects of self-righteousness?
“Instead of your own righteousness, seek the righteousness of Yahweh and the blessed community of the heavens. Then you’ll have no reason to worry.”
For the second time during his discourse, I felt like the Teacher was reading my mind. Like he was somehow able to take the thought I was about to have and take it to another place altogether.
There is but one way to pursue the life of the blessed community of the heavens. One reality to which to pledge our allegiance.
The one thing that could not be stolen or destroyed.
The one thing that kept our vision clear.
The one thing that we could rely on despite all our worries.
For just a moment, I felt almost as if the sea breeze really had lifted me off the ground. I felt almost weightless as the Teacher’s words sunk in more and more deeply. Everything and everyone around me seemed illuminated.
And in an instant, I understood it. A connection between us. A force, a power I had never before experienced bound us together. Not physically, but more like emotionally.
All at once I knew that I loved everyone and everything.
And for at least a brief minute, I felt what it could be like for earth to be as it is in heaven.
Next week: Judgment