The way of Discipleship turns everything upside down. In a world separated from God through self-centredness, self-indulgence, pride and every other sinful condition, it is easy to imagine that those who have succeeded in life are those who have some external and tangible reward. The ones with the best job, the best car, the most money and who seem to have no problems. This is why the path of the Disciple, no less than any other human activity, requires guidance so that we do not assume what success and achievement looks like.
It is counter-intuitive that those who are humble, not necessarily poor in monetary terms, but those who embrace humility, are those who have inherited the Kingdom of Heaven and experience it even now. It does not seem reasonable that the gentle people will have a greater power than then fierce and the violent. It does not always seem possible that our insatiable hunger for things and realtionships and esteem could ever be satisfied.
The Sermon on the Mount, as we call this passage in the Gospels, is a manifesto for Disciples. It is counter-cultural and revolutionary. The Lord Jesus does not ask his followers to carry on in the same way, but perhaps with a little more effort. He demands that everything be considered in an entirely new and renewed way. We must read this passage very carefully. It describes the life and attitude of the Disciple, made possible only by seeking the strength of God, and in union with God.
What is required of us if we wish to become Disciples in this way? In the first place it seems that we need to be much more attentive to our own weaknesses. We cannot say, what’s the problem, I was only a little bit rude! Just as we cannot say, I was only a little bit greedy! I was only a little bit lustful. In following the Lord Jesus Christ we come to realise that it is not about what we have done at all. It is always about the content and attitude and disposition of our heart. If I want to murder someone because I am so angry, but I am prevented by my circumstances, then I have not done some great thing. I have already murdered him in my heart. If I lust after someone and allow uncontrolled thoughts and images to overwhelm me, then I should not congratulate myself if I have not been able to do anything I wished because of my circumstances. I have already commited sin in my heart. Everything becomes much more serious in the way of Discipleship and we find that we are not easily able to excuse or congratulate ourselves.
Every word matters, every thought matters, every attitude matters, every moment matters.
But this is not a cause for despair, since we also discover that every generous and kind and thoughtful action and attitude, especially when united to the sense of God’s presence with us, is immediately rewarded, and much more than we deserve. When we exercise humility, and place ourselves behind others, and think of others first, we already experience the Kingdom of Heaven, we already find ourselves in Paradise in some sense. When we do seek to bring peace and comfort to someone, when we show mercy without calculation, when we suffer in silence, already we find a reward in the divine presence even though it might seem that we have done the smallest of things.
Every little thing matters in the path of Discipleship. We must concentrate on these little things of every day because in them we find healing and harm, salvation and loss, depending on what we choose. They seem the smallest of things, but in the revolutionary thinking which is required of the Disciple, the matter more than we could imagine.
Scripture – Matthew 5
1 Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 He opened his mouth and taught them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavour, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do you light a lamp and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. 16 Even so, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter† or one tiny pen stroke‡ shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgement.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgement. Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. 23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly while you are with him on the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ 28 but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. 30 If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,’ 32 but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall perform to the Lord your vows,’ 34 but I tell you, don’t swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can’t make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one. 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. 41 Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
From the Fathers
John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.)
Note how drastically he expresses it. For Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who cling to righteousness,” but “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”—not in a superficial way but pursuing it with their entire desire. By contrast, the most characteristic feature of covetousness is a strong desire with which we are not so hungry for food and drink as for more and more things. Jesus urged us to transfer this desire to a new object, freedom from covetousness.
Look then at the reward again: “for your reward is great in heaven.” And don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear the kingdom of heaven granted with every single Beatitude. For even if Jesus names the rewards differently, he still puts all of them in the kingdom of heaven. For in fact he says, “Those who mourn will be comforted, and those who show mercy will receive mercy, and those pure in heart will see God, and the peacemakers will be called sons of God.” In all these things the blessed One does nothing but hint at the kingdom of heaven. For people who enjoy these things will certainly reach the kingdom of heaven. So do not suppose that the reward of the kingdom of heaven belongs only to the poor in spirit. It also belongs to those who hunger for justice, and to the meek and to all these blessed others without exception. For he set his blessing upon all these things to keep you from expecting something belonging to this material world. For if one wore a prize or garland for things that are to be dissolved together with the present life, things that flit away faster than a shadow, would that one be blessed?
[We can imagine that the Fathers of the Church spoke a great deal about this passage from the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount. These are just two short passages from St John Chrysostom. He was the Archbishop of Constantinople from 397 A.D. until he was exiled in 404 A.D. His nickname, Chrysostom, means Golden-Tongue, and was given to him because he was a wonderful and eloquent preacher, and has left many of his homilies to us.
In the first passage St John Chrysostom describes how our natural desires are often given over to things like food and drink, or other things. We become entirely overwhelmed by such desires. It is not that the desire itself is wrong. But we attach it to the wrong things. We should be directing this human energy towards God and desiring him as much and more as we give ourselves to things that cannot last.
In the second passage he teaches us that all of these things which the Lord Jesus asks of us are to do with the Kingdom of Heaven. When we seek God, when we are merciful, when we are pure in heart, when we suffer persecution, these are all made into the means by which we can enter and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the means by which we begin to live in this place where God rules and reigns even now. We can enter now into a heavenly kingdom which will never pass away, now as a distant reward only, but as a present reality.]
Why are we still considering the Lord’s Prayer? It is because of all the prayers and spiritual exercises to which we could commit ourselves, this prayer above all and uniquely was given to us, taught to us, by God himself. It surely deserves the closest attention, and should be a prayer which is often on our lips and in our hearts. Far from being a simple prayer for beginners which we can rush through or abandon, this prayer requires us to offer it with the deepest understanding and the greatest warmth of heart and attention so that its divine grace becomes established in us.
Now we should reflect on the words, Your Kingdom come. Just as when we considered the words hallowed be your name, we should not imagine that we can add anything at all to the divine majesty of God, who is omnipotent, all powerful and the Pantocrator. We are not asking that God will gain a kingdom, but recognising in our prayer that he is already Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In many of our circumstances we can imagine that things are worse than even God can cope with. But he has a Kingdom which is greater and more secure than any earthly throne or government. Nor is it shaken by the events of time. It remains always secure and invincible. It is the rock on which we are invited to build the house of our life.
This is why the second aspect is so important in our prayer. When we pray, your Kingdom come, we are asking that God will become Lord of our own life. That we might place all of our anxieties, difficulties, rebellions and disobedience into his hands and place them in his control. More even than this, when we ask that the rule and reign of God would come into our own lives we are placing ourselves in the position of those who are willing to submit to such a rule and authority. We do not mean, your Kingdom come for everyone else. Rather we mean, your Kingdom come and rule over me!
What does it mean to accept such a lordship? What changes are required in our life so that we become willing and obedient citizens of the Kingdom of God? These are all aspects of the path of Discipleship. We should not pray, your Kingdom come, if we do not mean it. But we must mean it if we wish to enter into this Kingdom, and find our lives established on a firm and unshaken foundation.
1. We continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, but we especially reflect with attention on the words, your Kingdom come. Try to make this the definite intention of your heart as you pray with warmth and attention.
2. Write down in your notebook some of the things in your life which you know that God must become Lord of. Where are the areas in your life which you are afraid to give over to God’s control? Offer them to him even if there is anxiety about them.
3. Continue to intercede for those on your list of names as a necessary activity of the Disciple. Pray with warmth for each one, especially those with pressing needs known to you.
4. Read the Gospel again. Try to make a list of all the different characteristics which the Lord Jesus describes and which should be part of the life of those who are his disciples. Read prayerfully and write down in your notebook whatever comes to mind in a strong way as you read.