When the rubber meets the road.
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Those who know me know, ‘when the rubber meets the road’ is my go-to-phrase as I strive to push through abstract ideas to get to something tangible. Especially when the idea is worth the effort. Now, nothing is more worthy of humanity's concerted effort than Jesus' teaching from the mount.
Jesus addressed the issue of human flourishing with unparalleled authority and precision. 'No one taught like him' his first audience confessed (Matt 7:28). Twenty centuries later, anyone who cares to learn from Jesus would find it hard to disagree.
Jesus, as he taught his disciples from the mount, made a simple point: who we are should shape what we do, and not the other way around. This is something we can all agree with. No one likes to be valued only for their skills. But in a confused world with misplaced identities, we have traded who we are for what we do or have, or like. We identify ourselves by our professions, possessions or preferences. Is it any wonder that we are conflicted within and without?
We like to be applauded for what we do, but we long to be appreciated for who we are. Yet we are building a world where what we do is valued more than who we are.
'Superficial', is one way to describe how many of us live most of our lives and human goodness is like an ocean that is an inch deep. How else do we explain the shallowness in our commitment to seek the good of the other? Why is there such volatility when it comes to expressing our displeasures? I am not suggesting that every human being is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. But when humanity has been systematically feeding on a diet that 'treasures things and trashes people' we need more than a pep-talk on how to do better. We need a makeover.
In a world where self-interest abounds, our benevolence has its limits, as do our desire to be upright. So, if this world is to be a better place we need help.
Interestingly, not only did Jesus speak about this, he showed us how to turn a new leaf. Listen to Jesus carefully and you will see that Jesus placed a premium on what we ought to be and how we are to behave. Jesus truly put being before doing. His teachings from the mount compels us to recalibrate. In order to become better human beings, taught Jesus, we need to focus on what we are and let what we do be an overflow of who we are becoming.
Take for example:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:7-8
As Jesus continued to teach (from the mount), he said that the people of God are merciful and pure in heart. While this might appear as a simple ask, at first glance, in reality living thus is hard even for the most resolved. Remember, Jesus is not primarily speaking about what we are to do, rather about what we are to be.
Now, this is where the rubber meets the road!
It is easy to speak about the need to be kind and upright, even occasionally do some of these things, but to actually be merciful, or be pure in heart? That’s an entirely different matter, and we need to pay close attention to why this is so.
As real people with real challenges, it is important we appreciate how flourishing in the Kingdom of God is made possible, not just entertain abstract ideas of its importance.
There is an old adage I grew up with, in my native tongue (Malayalam), which says, ‘when shaken the pot can only spill what it is full off’. Jesus said blessed are merciful, not blessed are those who on occasion are benevolent
Merciful people will ‘spill’ acts of kindness and mercy when they are shaken. The pure in heart are upright, no matter what.
As God’s people we are merciful; we are pure in heart. Everything we do — being merciful or upright, is an overflow of who we are. It is out of character for the children of God to behave otherwise. There is no room for unwholesome talk or deceptive acts when you are merciful and pure in heart. It should be a struggle for us to be unkind or untrue, we are not meant to be able to live with it.
Truth be told, we all are capable of acts of kindness and uprightness. Yet, none of us are, as Jesus said, ‘pure in heart or merciful’.
Now, again, this is where the rubber meets the road!
As we wrap our minds around Jesus' words and allow his message to grip our souls, as we acknowledge that our doing (and unfortunately not our being) is at the heart of our identity, we will give Jesus’ invitation: ‘Come to me’ (Matt 11:28) the attention it deserves.
Jesus invites us to come to him and to learn from him because he alone can help us to become who we are created to be.
He alone knows what we are created to be — he created us.
It should be clear to anyone who tries, that it is impossible to keep the righteous demands of Jesus — in thought, word, and deed on our own. We are spiritually impoverished. We have limited to no ability to do as we must. We cannot be holy even if we wanted to on our own. But, then, as we come to Jesus and learn from him we will find that in taking him at his word and living as he invites us to we will become who he has created us to be. Let him take care of our becoming, and our being will take care of our doing. Now, that's how the rubber meets the road well.
Teachings from the Mount: Blessed are the Merciful (Session 03, Part-1)
Teachings from the Mount: Blessed are the Pure in Heart (Session 03, Part-2)