O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8]
These words from the eighth chapter of Micah’s prophecy are titled the “Golden Text of the Old Testament.” They bring to mind the concluding lines of our Confession of Sin that we make as one body whenever we come together to worship. We express these thoughts in a variety of ways:
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we might delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.
In the Rite I Confession, we ask our “most merciful Father” to forgive us and “grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life.” And, in the Rite I Morning Prayer Confession, we ask for mercy and restoration that we might “live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of [God’s] holy Name.
How are we to walk humbly with God as the prophet Micah suggests? How are we to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways? What is it to live in newness of life – a godly, righteous, and sober life?
There is no better source for this answer to how we are to walk humbly with our God than the Beatitudes – the beginning words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we read today as our Gospel lesson. Here we find nine indications of what it is to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways.
We read last week of Jesus receiving the news of the arrest of John the Baptist and of Jesus’ calling of the first of his disciples. He has moved from is childhood home of Nazareth to Capernaum, a town northeast of Nazareth, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where his ministry has now begun in earnest. We are to understand that the “new age” is introduced as Jesus begins his teaching; Matthew writes that Jesus sat down, as is the traditional teaching position of a Jewish rabbi.
Jesus speaks of “newness of life” – Jesus has not come to abolish the law; Jesus has come to guide us in our clarified interpretation of God’s law. As Jesus took his place upon the mountain and began to teach, Jesus took his place as the new Moses on a new Mount Sinai bringing a new revelation of God’s law – the epiphany of the Word made flesh.
God’s law and justice are real; as humans we require strict laws and the demands of justice. We require strict laws and the demands of justice as our guidance in the ways of living in relationship with one another.
The Beatitudes are about relationship. Otherwise, the Beatitudes make little sense to us; we cannot keep the Beatitudes to ourselves – the blessings about which the Beatitudes speak come in our relationships with one another. The Beatitudes do not express demands; rather they suggest characteristics that indicate one’s humble walk with God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who recognize their poverty of spirit acknowledge total dependence on God’s presence – a sense of patience and calm as we place ourselves in the delight of God’s will.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Those in Matthew’s audience were mourning for the repeated destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of God’s people. These words echo those of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of his purpose as bringing comfort to those who mourn for the state of God’s people in exile. We are blessed by God when we mourn with empathy for our neighbors who are grieving and broken by the ways of the world, when we recognize and mourn for injustice. God will console us – will strengthen us – so that we might bring comfort to others who suffer.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. The literal meaning of the term used for the word “meek” is equivalent to “poor in spirit.” What better way to understand God’s desire for meekness than that meekness expressed by the newborn babe laid in the manger – the epitome of meekness who was, at the same time, God incarnate. Through our willingness to open our hearts and minds in all meekness to God’s powerful gifts, recognizing our powerlessness, we shall inherit the abundant prosperity of God’s blessing.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. God’s justice is real; as we hunger and thirst for God’s justice, we find guidance and nurturance in our human behavior in our relationships with one another. We love without fear; we seek justice for our neighbor. The psalmist speaks of those wandering in desert wastelands until they cried to the Lord and were led to an “inhabited town” by the steadfast love of the Lord. Here, in relationship, we find God’s wonderful works to humankind, as God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm107:4-9]
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. It is from our merciful God that we beg forgiveness of our sins. Mercy is God’s attribute; in knowing God, we obtain his mercy and attain that mercy for others as we are expected to be merciful in the same way to others. Our hope is founded on the mercy of God at the final judgment. We are assured of this mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. In total sincerity, the vision of the pure in heart is not obscured by the ways of the world. God’s uprighteousness extends to our inmost being and is expressed in our every action. Shortly, as we offer thanks for the spiritual food in the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, we will ask to be sent forth into the world with gladness and singleness of heart – purity of heart that we might be ever mindful of God’s everliving presence with us and through us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Shalom expresses the ultimate fullness of God’s gifts – peace that only God can provide. We are children of God when we work for this peace in our earthly lives; yet, we know that it will only be accomplished in total in the perfection of God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Just as the Hebrews were and continue to be persecuted by non-believers; just as Jesus’ fellow Jews who sat at his feet listening to his words were being persecuted by their political and religious leaders; just as the early Christians to whom Matthew is writing were persecuted and martyred; so we, too, will be ostracized by the world for standing up for our beliefs in God’s righteousness. We will be ostracized for loving without fear.
Christians are murdered for their faith daily in many areas of the world. Yet, Jesus says we are to rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven. We live in the hope and expectation of God’s kingdom that is now and is to come. In God’s kingdom, his power and his righteous judgment will prevail and be acknowledged by all creation – made manifest for all creation. There, by the grace of our salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will walk humbly with our God.