This morning my devotional reading has carried me into Matthew, arriving at the Beatitudes. However, of more interest to me than the text of this “Sermon on the Mount,” was where my spirit went when I read the words from verse 4:25-5:1, “Large crowds …followed him. Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them,…”
Rather than immediately focusing on the crowd, Jesus sat down and afforded his disciples critical insights into God’s remedy for human behavior. The typical celebrity type minister of today’s television hype, or even the average politician (trust me, I am not oblivious to this) would be energized by crowds. Jesus’ words imply that he was somewhat troubled, “blessed are the poor in spirit…, those who mourn…” not because of the great needs of this throng of people from multiple cities, for the crowds were there in part because of all the great miracles that happened around him.
Jesus, the God-man saw through people and was moved to his core with compassion. In fact, by the end of the message in verse 7:28 he had begun talking to the crowd, or at least they were privy in some way to his words. “…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (their own religious leaders).”
I sense that the crowd was initially boisterous, caught up in this Messiah moment, though they had not yet connected with his true mission and in fact would soon play into his murder. We humans are a fickle bunch and far removed from the beatitude descriptors that flowed first out of Jesus’ heart as he sat down with some few men, who at that moment had no clue as to where their allegiance to Jesus would of necessity take them.
My own heart is full at this time as well, with new opportunities to lead, set up in part by a disappointing response to a great community vision, which I must say caught be a little off guard. I underestimated humans; Jesus saw right through them, but his response unlike my own, was not anger but reality. We are sheep without a Shepard and we perish without vision; often even in the face of true vision, we are easily scattered toward our fears without courageous leaders who will stand alone.
America and its communities are at this critical juncture in this 2012 election year. Party politics are in a feeding frenzy, polarizing people with fears and fantasies. People who lack the virtues described in this Sermon on the Mount are gullible, overly religious and easily seduced. In fact, the traditional image I had of Jesus, stepping to the plate before a crowd of cheerleaders ready to hear this miracle worker, was not what I sensed this morning. Rather, I saw a man who loved people but was wearied by their need for a hero. He sat down for a moment of personal preparation with his “salt of the earth” disciples, quietly beginning the long journey that would reestablish the Kingdom of God.
Oh how our current culture so needs leaders, men and women, who possess the courage to face religious and political zealots, who mean well, but are so deeply entrenched in legislating the morality long lost by a wayward church, that they have forsaken the love of God and the compassion that their prosperity would otherwise afford the least of these.