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I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, and follow along as I read verses 1-12. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And 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 they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after 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 the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
This is a sermon title that can be easily misinterpreted, like the pastor who preached to a group of inmates at a state correctional prison and began his speech with the greeting: "Well, it's nice to see so many of you here." I do not supposed many in his audience agreed with him on that. The sermon title today is “Jesus Judo.” So what is this about? I was involved in the marital arts for many years. I have a second dan black belt in Taekwondo—which is the Korean version of karate. So you might imagine today that I am going to talk about how Jesus whacked his enemies. He chopped them; he kicked them, he choked them out. He took them on by the dozens and whacked and smacked his way through them all. That would be the Hollywood version of Jesus Judo.
Of course, if you know anything at all about Jesus, you know that he would never whack or chop or choke anyone. Jesus Judo is the opposite of worldly judo. It is not physical at all; it is spiritual. And it is not about whacking and chopping, it is about living and loving.
Our verses today are the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount, which we call the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes stand as the pre-eminent example of Jesus' Judo stance. Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who show mercy;" "Congratulations to those who love their enemies." That was the kind of religion Jesus taught.
Unfortunately, religion is often used as a cover for worldly aims, and often uses worldly methods. The people who crashed planes loaded with fuel and people into the world trade center and the Pentegon did it in the name of religion, specifically Moslem fundamentalism. The man who killed Anwar al-Sadat was a Moslem fundamentalist. He killed him because Sadat, the leader of Egypt made peace with Israel. The man who killed Yitzhak Rabin, was a Jewish Fundamentalist. He killed Rabin because Rabin, as Prime Minister of Israel, signed a peace accord with the Palestinians. The man who killed Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu fundamentalist. He killed Gandhi because Gandhi advocated peace between Hindus and Moslems. What does our verse say: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They are blessed by God, but not usually by the world. We Christians are also not free of religious violence. In the Balkans, Greek Orthodox Serbs launched a war of extermination against Moslem Bosnians. In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants kill each other because they are Catholics and Protestants.
Now all of this violence associated with religion is a troubling factor to those of us who are believers. It is true that we may say that we are not Hindus nor Moslems nor Jews, but we are Christians. We are followers of Jesus, but we often do not follow Jesus very well. That is to say, we do not listen to what Jesus told us to do. I am preaching at myself today as much as I am preaching at you.
For example, when the world trade center was bombed, and thousands of people were killed, and when a link was established between al kaida terrorists and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, my first angry reaction was that we ought to use nuclear weapons on Afghanistan. I felt that the only possible satisfaction for such a catastrophe was mushroom clouds over ill-begotten, god-forsaken land. But that initial reaction passed and eventually I was glad we did not do that. We now know that a majority of the Afghan people never supported the Taliban. Had we nuked the country, we would have killed untold thousands of innocent men, women and children. That would have made us terrorists. That would have made us just like them.
Some might say, Well, they did it to us, we should do it to them. They killed innocent people; it is all right for us to kill innocent people. But Jesus never said anything like that. Our behavior should not be governed by what they do or say. There is an old story. I am not sure of the source but it goes like this: Back in the early part of the twentieth century, a man walked down to the corner every night and bought a newspaper. One night a friend went with him. The man bought his paper, thanking the owner politely. The newsstand owner, however, did not even acknowledge his customer’s politeness. As they walked away, the friend commented, “He is a sullen fellow, isn't he?” The man said, ”He's that way every night.” “Then why do you continue being so polite to him?” asked the friend. ”Why should I let him determine how I act?" Said the man. Good point. Do not let others determine how you act. Use Jesus Judo instead.
V3 is Jesus’ first lesson in spiritual judo. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The poor in spirit are also those who think more highly of others than they do of themselves. This is a mark of love, to lift up others and exalt others, instead of me. Humility is a kind of love. The opposite, arrogance, is self-love. An arrogant person focuses on himself, thinks it is all about himself, loves only himself. An humble person realizes that there are many people in this world who are smarter than I am, and many with talents that I do not have, and part of love is to recognize that.
V3 is related to v5. V5 promises that the meek will inherit the earth. Those of a quiet and gentle spirit realize that the earth does not belong to us, it belongs to our creator God, and so in the end they are blessed by the owner. We used to have a word that could have been used here. The word was gentle-man. A gentle man was once a meek and humble man of God, but that word has lost its meaning, and become a mere honorific.
We could use some true gentle-men today who do need to feel superior to others. And again, this is part of love, to be content to lift up others, and to be content not to be lifted up by others.
V4 is another Jesus Judo technique. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Again, we ask questions: Who are these people that mourn and what are they mourning about?
They mourn for their sins. They are ashamed of what they have done that is displeasing to God. They are sorry for the iniquity that separates them from the fountain of blessedness.
And they mourn not just for their sins but for the sins of the world, and for the sorrow of the world. Around the world, people are killed and maimed and slaughtered on the altar of national pride, or in the name of this or that religion. And God loves everyone of them. God mourns for them, and so do his people.
V6 is yet more spiritual Judo: “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Our physical body must be nourished by food and drink, so must our soul. The body depends for its nourishment, upon the earth and the things of the earth. The soul depends upon the things of heaven. Heavenly things cannot support the body; they are not suited to its nature: earthly things cannot support the soul, for the same reason. When we feel the pangs of hunger in the stomach, we know we need to eat. When we feel spiritual hunger pangs, when the soul begins to hunger after righteousness. Righteousness in this verse is all the blessings of the new covenant, all the graces of the Messiah’s kingdom, all the things of God. We hunger for God’s presence in our lives. We hunger for God’s love. And we will be filled. God will give us his love.
In v7 Jesus employs still more of his special judo. V7 informs us that the merciful are also blessed. The desire to humiliate others and to punish them, the desire for vengeance is not part of the Christian life.
Mercy is an emotion that arises when we enter into another person’s heart and mind and feel their pain and distress. This obviously is a quality of love. If we love others, and they are hurting, then we feel their pain, at least to some extent, and we want to do what we can to deliver them from that distress.
The arrogant, the unmerciful, are blind to the pain of others. Their love does not extend outside themselves. They do not care whether others live or die. If they have their education, they do not care whether others are educated. If they are not hungry, they do not care whether others are hungry. They have no mercy because they do not care.
But God’s loving people are not like that. We enter into the miseries of our neighbor and feel for him and mourn for her.
And the promise is that the merciful obtain mercy. It is not that we purchase mercy with mercy. We are not buying God’s mercy by showing mercy to others, but the people who belong to Christ are a people of love, and mercy is part of love.
In v8, Jesus continues to teach us his version of Judo. V8 speaks of the pure in heart. The Pharisees pretended to an outward purity, while their hearts were full of corruption and defilement. A principal part of the Jewish religion consisted in outward washings and cleansings: on this basis they expected to see God, but Christ tells us that a purification of the heart, from vile attitudes and desires, is what is required to enter into the kingdom of God. How then is our heart purified? By living in love. If we live the love Christ taught us, then we will have the right attitudes and desires.
V9 blesses the peacemakers. We have already said something of them. Their blessing is not from this world. In fact, the world seems ever ready to curse and kill peacemakers. Nevertheless, we are to have the attitude of peacemakers. A peacemaker is a person who has a generous spirit, who will give others the benefit of the doubt.
Alfred Fleishman writes about an incident in St Louis where In St. Louis, a driver stopped for a red light at one of the city's intersections. A pedestrian waiting for the light to change saw that one of the car's tires was almost flat. Pointing to the tire, he shouted to the driver, "Hey, your front tire is going flat."
The driver got out of the car, looked at the tire, saw that it was dangerously low, and said, "Thanks for being a Good Samaritan!"
The pedestrian immediately leapt off the curb, went straight for the driver, and started hitting him with his fists and shouting, "You can't call me a dirty name!"
Returning violence with violence, the driver fought back, and both pedestrian and driver ended up in the hospital - all because one mistook a compliment for an insult. [Alfred Fleishman, Sense and Nonsense: A Study in Human Communication (San Francisco: International Society for General Semantics, 1971), 66.]
And neither was willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt and try to figure out what was actually being said.
The world needs more peacemakers, people who, instead of fanning the fires of strife and conflict, will use their influence to reconcile contending parties, adjust differences, and restore others to a state of unity and love. That is the kind of people we are supposed to be.
When we were without God and without Christ, we were in a state of hostility to God and each other. The Gospel is called the Gospel of peace, because it reconcile us to God and to others. Thus, Jesus, in v9 terms peace-makers the children of God. God is a God of peace, hence, those who promote peace are his children. But whose children are they who stir up divisions in the Church, the state, or among families? Surely they are not of that God, who is the Father of love, nor are they of that Christ, who is the mediator of peace, nor are they of his church, which is the kingdom and family of peace.
Verse 10 says, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
They are persecuted. They are beaten and imprisoned and killed, they are treated cruelly and harshly, but they are happy? That is what it says, Happy are those who are treated cruelly. That seems like a strange saying. And they are righteous people, they are good people. They are treated cruelly because they are good people. That is certainly not right, we say, but that is the way of the world. Reflect back upon the people I mentioned earlier who were murdered, Rabin, Sadat, Gandhi: they were murdered because they were trying to do good. The world is at enmity to anything of God and goodness. Thus, if we live godly in Jesus Christ, then the world will hate us. This is not to say that we hate the world, we do not, but the world will hate us. But notice the promise attached to the verse. The promise we have is not of this world at all; it is of the kingdom of heaven.
And v12 offers us some consolation. V12 says that when the world reviles our belief in Christ, and puts us down because we are so ridiculous as to believe in the power of love, then we should understand that this is the way the world always treats God’s people and we should rejoice because we know that we are God’s people. We look to God, not to the world, we depend upon God not the world.
So let me conclude then with one last Jesus Judo chop. "When Mother Teresa first began her work among the dying on the streets of Calcutta, India, she was obstructed at every turn by government officials and orthodox Hindus, who were suspicious of her motives and used their authority to harass her and to frustrate her efforts. She and her fellow sisters were insulted and threatened with physical violence. One day a shower of stones and bricks rained down on the women as they tried to bring the dying to their humble shelter. Eventually Mother Teresa dropped to her knees before the mob. 'Kill me!' she cried in Bengali, her arms outstretched in a gesture of crucifixion, 'And I'll be in heaven all the sooner.' The rabble withdrew but soon the harassment increased with even more irrational acts of violence and louder demands were made of officials to expel the foreign nun in her white sari, wearing a cross around the neck.
"One morning, Mother Teresa noticed a gathering of people outside the nearby Kali Temple, one of the holy places for Hindus in Calcutta. As she drew closer, she saw a man stretched out on the street with turned-up eyes and a face drained of blood. A triple braid denoted that he was of the Brahmin caste, not of the temple priests. No one dared to touch him, for people recognized he was dying from cholera.
"Mother Teresa went to him, bent down, took the body of the Brahmin priest in her arms and carried him to her shelter. Day and night she nursed him, and eventually he recovered. Over and over again he would say to the people, 'For 30 years I have worshipped a Kali of stone. But I have met in this gentle woman a real Kali, a Kali of flesh and blood.' Never again were stones thrown at Mother Teresa and the other sisters." [Donald J. Shelby, "Weakness and Power," 22 December 1991, Santa Monica, California.] Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/12/04