IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL FOCUS MORE ON HIS GOOD NEWS AND LESS ON RELIGIOUS TO-DO’S.
IT’S DANGEROUS WHEN religious people read the Bible. They are often tempted to make the particular into the universal. For example, in the Gospels, Jesus called Peter to leave his fishing business to become His apostle and a “fisher of men.” Rather than seeing this as Peter’s particular calling, those steeped in religion often insist this is a universal expectation upon all Christians. While heaping on the guilt, they conveniently ignore other stories where Jesus gives would-be disciples callings very different from Peter’s. Jesus even tells some who want to follow Him to “go home.” The gospel writers did not tell the story of Peter’s calling to prescribe what all believers should do. The story was simply meant to describe what Peter did do.
The same temptation to confuse description for prescription is at play when we read the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. In the first twelve verses, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus identifies who is blessed by God. His list includes the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek. Some misread this section as prescriptive—as what we should seek to be if we desire God’s blessing. Such a reading will lead us to believe being joyful or courageous is ungodly, and that sadness and weakness are true signs of spiritual maturity. That, of course, is nonsense. Jesus is not prescribing how to be blessed, but rather describing who is blessed. While the world says the strong, powerful, and happy are “well off,” Jesus turns our expectations upside down by saying it’s the weak, sad, and overlooked who are well off in God’s kingdom.
The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is not a to-do list; it is a good news list. Jesus is describing who has the most to gain by the arrival of His kingdom. He is not prescribing what you must do to enter it.