Jesus stands in prayer a few yards away. And as he reaches his hands up to God, his face is transfigured. A strange, but beautiful glow. And his clothes, they are transformed too. They now dazzle as if the weaver had captured lightning, blended it with the fabric, and woven it into the garment. And then, as if this was not enough supernatural phenomena for one day, the Hebrew lawgiver, Moses, and the greatest of the prophets, Elijah, emerge from nowhere and converse with Jesus. What a day it was.
At the deepest level, however, the Sermon is not primarily a set of rules or directives. At the deepest level, the Sermon on the Mount is an act of imagination – and a rather wild and crazy act of imagination at that. In the Sermon, Jesus reimagines the world and invites us, the church, to live into this new, alternative reality.
Many of us can look upon the time Matthew describes as analogous to our current time. We too may be anxious and wondering what it means to be Christian and what the future of Christianity may hold. Daily, we hear extreme voices on what it means to be Christian on both ends of the polarized political system we find ourselves in. This is why we must listen very carefully to Jesus’ words in our gospel today, so we may return to the common ground that Christian identity and vocation is all about.
The final and most perceptive set of eyes would have looked into the souls of those gathered, seen the spiritual place each resided in their relationship to God and to the world, and discerned the spiritual truth of each person present. Jesus would have looked within their souls and in many would have found poverty of spirit, a hungering for a better life, a restless heart bound up in an unjust system. This is the spiritual truth Jesus addresses when he shares what we call the Beatitudes, his statements about God’s blessedness meeting our deepest need.
Jesus’ surrender on the cross to the power of the Roman empire was an expression of divine power. In that action, he took control of the heart of this world and we continue to live out Jesus’ death and resurrection. The power of love conquering hate. The power of peace conquering war. The power of justice uprooting injustice in our society. Jesus would not take on the warrior mentality. Jesus refused to believe that the only way to end oppression was to become the oppressor. Jesus gathered people together, Jesus released the power of the Holy Spirit to nurture their souls and to change their lives, Jesus proclaimed the message of love, and Jesus saved us from our human tendency to fight back. Jesus built a movement of love, kindness, and compassion and invites us to follow.
“What are you looking for?” It’s a great question which Jesus poses to John’s followers in today’s gospel. This question can be alternatively translated “What are you seeking?” or “What are you after?”. The question is brilliant because it calls the seeker to do a quick interior discovery of what is burning in their hearts that causes them to turn to Jesus. Is it curiosity, intrigue, shame, fear, guilt, loneliness, joy, generosity or desire for relationship? Are they wanting comfort or challenge, respite from a weary world, safety, unconditional love or deeper union with the force of goodness; or do they want to feel the loving presence descend upon them as the dove in Jesus’ baptism and wash away their sins? Jesus wants to know where this relationship is beginning; Jesus wants to know where to meet each one, and asks the question, “What are you after?” I imagine if we were each to try to answer that question, “What are you seeking in Jesus and or in this church?” we would arrive at a multitude of responses and to do so would be exactly right. For as Jesus engaged John’s followers and as he engages us with that question, his gift to us is that he is inviting us into a relationship, which is the source of all that we could be seeking, now or forever.
Jesus’ baptism sets loose the Holy Spirit into the world, inspiring and strengthening Jesus for his baptismal ministry, of bringing in the Kingdom of God, through healing, teaching, and preaching. The same Spirit that anointed Jesus anoints us in baptism, and this baptism immerses us into the same service and ministry in the world. One way to look at baptism is divine empowerment so that we, like Jesus, can make meaningful contributions to our church and society. Baptism immerses us in service and ministry in the world.