“So they went out and preached that men should change their whole outlook.” Mk 6:12jbp
Jesus was indeed a radical! He did not come to make a better man, a nicer society – He came to change the entire underpinning of humanity. He effectively turned His world and ultimately the universe upside down. He challenged the predatory mindset prevalent not only in the Jewish religious society, but pervasive throughout history, that called people to recognize and accept their place in the social pecking order. Accomplishment, wealth, status, and conformity continue as measurements for social position. If you do not subscribe willingly you will be forced. Perception of acceptability or rejection dominates most peoples’ self esteem, outlook, and decision making. The Sermon on the Mount – such an inspirational religious platitude to our generation far removed (in time) from its delivery – was actually a startling, hope-filled proclamation that the poor, the humble, the sorrowful, the merciful, the persecuted, the sincere, the peacemakers, and those longing for goodness (basically the rejects) were actually qualified to count for something exceptional – the kingdom of God, in fact. These were people who had been marginalized by the norms and culture of their society. The meek were the weak, the exploited had no recourse, the powerless were victimized. In that day wealth and status indicated God’s favor. (Sound familiar?) This was a declaration that not only were the overlooked eligible for God’s kingdom, but desirable to be its citizens. Answering the the call for a revision of mind and heart would permit them to become those very people who would display the kingdom of light and love to a world blinded by the domain of decaying and dying. The ineligible became the ambassadors!! Jesus the radical challenged the externally ‘correct’ social order by calling for personal reevaluation, thus paving the way for the heart to embrace an unseen kingdom with its unapparent King. This is something even now that the most unacceptable among us can do.
In that famous sermon He reveals that the ones touched by and receptive to the grace of a transforming God become salt and light. He tells us that we are to transcend the keeping of rules – to instead live out the principles of a presently concealed but enduring kingdom. We can only do that by allowing our own perceptions, perspectives, preferences, and prejudices to be sifted through the screen of redirecting kingdom values. Our hearts and minds must be realigned. Indeed, we must be reborn as He told Nicodemus. We cannot try to squeeze kingdom life into our own personal world view – just as we could not take a fish and expect it to live without the benefit of water. Jesus’ theme message echoes through the folds of time and reverberates in the hearts of those willing to trust Him – “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
At the time, the Jews who heard this message thought it meant that the visible installment of Jehovah’s reign was imminent. Jesus’ life became the demonstration that the kingdom was internal and infectious. He reminded them that He would indeed return and physically restore all things to God’s original intent at a later time. We seem to have returned to that old religious thinking requiring merely some formal compliance to an external profession or ritual to secure eligibility. Like getting a driver’s license or a passport, being the correct flavor of believer or saying the right words are thought to qualify us for the inevitable rule of God in the material world. We seem to need the same message that Jesus and His disciples proclaimed at the start.
The word “repentance” invokes thoughts of tremendous self-effort. We have been taught that God requires achievement for acceptability. What if it merely requires the willingness to be persuaded of the reality and supremacy of an unseen dimension? To examine our hearts and not our performance? We naturally focus on the material, the social, the physical imperatives needed for survival and success in the prevailing order of things. Jesus and His messengers call us to focus on the life within – a new center that is unapparent. But what if, as in the sermon on the mount, the apostolic messengers were just continuing the initial proclamation of both John the Baptist and Jesus – “Prepare your hearts to receive a higher more inclusive reality: a spiritual realm is available to those who want it.” The New Testament, as the whole of Revelation is story after story of failures who dared to trust the offer of God. Jesus is the “King of Failures” and welcomes the sinner – much to the displeasure of those around Him who professed to know God. He won hearts and called disciples to follow Him – even to death. Where the heart goes the man follows.
“Change your heart, for the sanctuary of God is readily available.” Mt 4:17 The Devotional Gospels of Jesus
How we answer that call makes all the difference. Forever!