Have you noticed how the term ‘spiritual’ is used these days. For example, as when Lords Cricket Ground is referred to as the spiritual home of cricket, or Wembley Stadium is designated the spiritual home of football. Well, in my opinion, this is both a misunderstanding and misuse of the word, indicating that another ‘treasure’ is being adapted by secular society, so rendering it almost meaningless.
Eugene Peterson, pastor/theologian, offers this insight: “The meteoric ascendancy of interest in spirituality … is fueled by a profound dissatisfaction with approaches to life that are either aridly rationalistic … or impersonally functional … There comes a time for most of us when we discover a deep desire within us to live from the heart … what is lasting and eternal. The difficulty is that everyone is more or less invited to make up a spirituality that suits herself or himself. Out of the grab bag of celebrity anecdotes, media gurus, fragments of ecstasy and personal fantasies, far too many of us … assemble spiritual identities that are conspicuously prone to addictions, broken relationships, isolation and violence … ” from ‘Christ Plays in 10,000 Places’ (pages 4-5)
I’d like to re-direct attention to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is the epitome of spiritual values & characteristics. It’s recorded by Matthew in three outstanding chapters (5,6,7) of his gospel. The writer introduces this spiritual manifesto by reference to vast crowds who pressed in to hear Jesus (we know it was not unusual for over 5000 to gather for this purpose). Jesus climbed a hill to find space to accommodate the throng in what was a natural amphitheatre. Matthew’s comment at the conclusion (7:28) suggests this teaching wasn’t meant as a private audience for few disciples, but intended for all those in attendance.
A fascinating observation by Matthew, not picked up in some modern translations, is the phrase occurring in the original, “and He opened His mouth and taught them”. Why does Matthew find it necessary to tell us that Jesus opened His mouth. This amused me greatly until I connected it with Matthew’s description of Christ’s ordeal in the wilderness in the previous chapter. The satanic temptation to turn stones into bread is met by the firm rebuttal, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (4:4). Is Matthew deliberately implying that the mouth on the mount is in fact the mouth of God ? Selah !!
Space permits merely a quick dip into the edge of this mighty ocean, but hopefully it may initiate a longing in readers to plunge in further, as happened in my case, when I was first introduced to these passages by a godly pastor during my teenage years.
At the outset we have those pithy sayings known as the BEATITUDES, each beginning with the word BLESSED, translating a Greek word: MAKARIOI, often used in secular Greek society to denote a state of happiness, and having no religious connotations whatsoever. The AMPLIFIED BIBLE picks this up, translating as: “Blessed – happy, to be envied and spiritually prosperous … ” Clearly Jesus intends us to appreciate that He came to BLESS mankind, that His kingdom is here to BLESS the earth. Even God is called the HAPPY GOD in St Paul’s letter to Timothy. Of this word BLESSED F F Bruce writes: “This is one of the words which have been transformed … by New Testament use … by association, as in the Beatitudes, with unusual conditions, accounted by the world miserable, or difficult”
For me these beatitudes map the territory of genuine, robust spirituality, which is no-nonsense and eminently practical … they present 7 spiritual truths, as follows:
1. Spirituality is God-dependency not self-sufficiency
2. Spirituality laments failure – both in itself & others
3. Spirituality is not weakness, but inner strength through submission
4. Spirituality has to do with an internal longing
5. Spirituality is not something in isolation from others
6. Spirituality is the steady focus of our inner person
7. Spirituality expresses itself in actively seeking the common good – peace between God & man – & peace among men
The 8th & final beatitude promises a two-fold blessing even though pointing to the potential of persecution. Because those who are truly spiritual are looked on as ‘different’ (i.e. the root meaning of ‘holy’) they will often be misunderstood, even rejected and persecuted by secular society. Encouragingly, however, those exhibiting such a spiritual disposition are described as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13 & 14) reflecting and representing God’s Kingdom, which is both present, spiritual reality, and yet awaits glorious, future manifestation.
FINALLY: Take Time To Explore The Territory – a road-map only describes the territory – having and knowing the map, isn’t equivalent to knowing the territory. It takes a commitment of will, of time and effort to move into that territory in order to experience it first-hand.