SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of Capernaum
So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”
Again systematically, Cornelius went down the list: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful and the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
What amazed him was that Jesus revealed a concept within a series of riddles that just turned his sense of reality upside down. Jesus’ ten riddles expound on who truly are the recipients of God’s blessing and Cornelius does not fit with any of them. He came from a world that does not consider them successful. As a Roman, with the expanse of the empire covering most of Europe, Africa and Asia as a testimony, he was brought up to make something of himself not value meekness or to be poor in spirit. He was taught to push himself to the front of others, to promote oneself, and climb the ladder to success even over the bodies of his fellows. For him, the way to inherit the earth is to get ahead. Yet, herein lay the paradox. In the eyes of God, it is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit, not those who are self-sufficient, who are in the kingdom of heaven.
Cornelius always knew that there was something lacking in his life but he could not put his finger on it. The words of Jesus may be what he sought especially the last riddle that appealed to him in some way but even that he could not peg down. The last riddle calls one to rejoice and be glad, not when things are going good, but quite the opposite. In fact, it challenges the one who is being persecuted to be happy regardless the pain they are feeling and knowing full well that he will not taste the rewards in this lifetime. He would have loved to meditate on this concept some more but then he heard Jesus’ voice again.
He opened his eyes and saw that Jesus was again addressing the crowd to listen. He spoke to them of how, as the chosen people of God, they should boldly shine out to the world and be that beacon to bring people to Him. A number of people called out to him asking who he was. His response to them was…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matt 5:17-18 NASB]
Cornelius found it interesting that as the people clamored for him to identify himself as the Messiah, he would not entertain them with a direct answer. The people, who were probably cajoled by the zealots, desire a fighting leader like in the days of the Judges. But Jesus emphasized that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. If Jesus is the promised Messiah, then there are things based in the Law that he has to accomplish first. In many ways, this is how the true Messiah would be revealed.
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:19-20 NASB]
This declaration surprised Cornelius even more. Though it mirrored the riddles that Jesus started with, he openly emphasized that the best of them, the teachers and lawyers of the Law, failed to live up to it. And he challenged the people to live better than them if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cornelius felt both relieved and concerned at the same time. He was relieved because these were not the words of a man who would ally himself with the shortsightedness of the zealots. Jesus wanted to bring change to the people but it was clear to him that Jesus will do this from the inside out. The concern was that Cornelius want him to succeed but his last statement polarized him from the religious leadership. Sure enough, as he searched the crowd, he saw them gathered together whispering to each other casting angry glances at the teacher on the rock.
The story continues on in my next post a week from now.
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