EPIPHANY 4/A (2020): Ps. 15 (ant. 16:1); Micah 6:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12.

Require,      [W]hat does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (v. 8b, c)

Well, this is problematic. Of ourselves we might “do justice” aligned with our interests; if “kindness” is extended at a cost it is begrudging, prideful, or dutiful, certainly not from pure love; and our walk with God is the way of faux humility.

You might dispute the accusations; but then you must submit to “the mountains and the foundations of the earth”, God’s impaneled jury to judge between you and him (Micah 6:1, 2) at which they will laugh your hypocrisy to scorn.

What God requires is beyond our ability. In today’s Gospel Jesus removed himself from the crowds to a mountain place to teach his disciples the things of heaven’s reign; what the Lord requires:

Poverty of spirit; mourning over sin; humility; hunger for a righteousness not our own; merciful kindness; purity in worship; peacemaking by God’s word; and still expect for it, persecution for union with Christ (Mt. 5:1-12).

Are these requirements too stringent; after all, we are no less sinners on trial for our lives than anyone else? If Jesus’ “Teaching on The Mount” enhances the justice, kindness, and humility required by God, and it does; then we must exclaim to the “mountains”, “Woe is me!” Seemingly, by implication we are condemned, summarized “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

But Jesus’ imperatives are not jury instructions to “the mountains”, but blessings intended for us; indeed, by blessing the Lord will graciously withdraw his legal allegations.

Let’s understand the hidden wisdom of the Beatitudes. They do not follow upon our acts of justice, love, and humility or even our failure; rather the blessings are sourced in God’s word spoken in power for effect in our lives. Jesus’ beatitudes do not confer rewards; rather they are words of empowerment declaring a new status in his Kingdom through faith.

Last Sunday St. Paul was concerned for congregations titillated by eloquent, logical, and sophisticated preachers; a danger by words that would empty Christ’s cross of its power (1 Cor. 1:17).

Paul explains, the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it has been written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise…’” (vv. 18, 19a).

What Paul says is difficult especially in light of Jesus’ Beatitudes; both are counterintuitive to sinful ears, minds, and hearts that believe God is like us; but he is not (Isa. 55:8, 9)!

Look behind me, to the Altar and the crucifix on it, the visible representation of all that Paul would have us comprehend of God and Christian worship; Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23, 24). The Altar is the sacramental place of God with us by Jesus’ self-donation on the cross and in the Resurrection. The altar’s crucifix visages God’s justifying grace, his loving mercy, and Humility’s walk with God.

The sight of the crucifixion, even as art is almost unbearable, such that modesty demands we clean-up the obscenity, “the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be” (Mk. 13:14). There is nothing humanly or heavenly eloquent, sophisticated, or reasonable conveyed by the cross of Christ. It is the picture of sin’s disposition; and yet Paul preached the cross for opening our eyes to the mind and heart of God, that what we are unable to do for ourselves, he sent his Son to do for us; and revealing “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26).

Victoriously, Jesus entered the ugly of hell to confer blessing upon men for God’s new righteousness. The cross of Christ, incarnate Word, reveals the power and wisdom of God who destroy’s the “wisdom of the wise” and the “discernment of the discerning”.

In Christ crucified God’s justice is captive to his love of the man Jesus, God’s New Israel. God beholds only Jesus and his wounds. He has no other discourse than with his enfleshed Son.

On the Mount, Jesus would have us sway the jury from what seems inevitable destruction, not with our human eloquence and logic, but by God’s wisdom and power conveyed in faith from the cross, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3a).

Poverty of spirit is not a command meriting blessing; Jesus did not bestow blessing on curious crowds, then or now; but upon his disciples of faith. By the power of his word God delivers the substance of his wisdom in Jesus’ obedience at the cross. His blessings are ours for the asking, our conversion to the image of God and likeness of Christ freely offered and delivered in Baptism.

Spiritual poverty bestowed by God’s proclamatory word, “Christ crucified”, is ours by promise, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” for a spirit of obedience in Christ.

Why; do we receive the Spirit, the water and the blood of Christ crucified to true humility, declining any shred of righteousness and mercy of ourselves; but abdicating all in Thanksgiving to God?

As we submit to persecutions in an unbelieving world, allowed by God, we are assured by the word of “Christ crucified” of our new creation coming into being with him; a discipline making us “perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect”. Amen.