How did Jesus teach? The Beatitudes & The Last Supper

given on Sunday, October 6, 2013–Worldwide Communion Day

Scripture Base:  Matthew 5: 5-12 and Luke 6:20-23

Teaching and preaching seemingly follow similar methods and often the two careers seem to merge.  In fact, the training is very similar especially in classes concerning delivery of content.  The difference between the two careers is primarily the audience, as one might expect.

The Sermon on the Mount officially signaled the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  The audience was defined as the Jews, originally, but opened up to any interested person who was within hearing distance of this man.  Certainly the first notice taken of him was in the tabernacle where the Jewish rabbis were listening and interacting with him as a child even as a student.  Yet as early as 12, the scripture tells us that Jesus may have been more a preacher than a student.

Personally, I would love to learn more about this young man between 12 and 30.  Was his development typical or did he develop an aura of mystery around him causing people—family, friends, neighbors, even strangers—to start whispering about him in an almost fearful manner?

The stories of Jesus’ pre-ministry life are scanty at best, but I cannot believe that he was just quietly growing up and being trained as a carpenter.  I think there must have been a sense of calm and peace surrounding him visible in his actions and his eyes.  I think he was soft-spoken, but gifted at knowing the inner thoughts of others.

How else could one man, walking along the dusty paths along the Jordan River, up and over coastal mountains, in and along the village paths, call out the name of someone completely absorbed by the task at hand, and have them drop everything, walk towards him, and begin a journey without a thought!  I know there had to be a unique presence about Jesus.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is the Sermon on the Mount and the list of Beatitudes is recorded as the introduction to his teaching.  At the point he becomes aware of the large crowd growing around him and the Apostles, he shifts from preparing them for their new career to teaching and/or preaching to the curious onlookers.

What do the Beatitudes teach?  At the first reading, one might consider them to be riddles.  The words twist and turn, stating one thing, then flipping into another.  The wording is a cause and effect statement in reverse:  God blesses those (the effect) who did (the cause).  But then comes the concrete result—the Kingdom of Heaven is just one result.

Breaking down each statement like that, certainly demonstrates the rewards outnumber the expected behaviors.  One new law erases the Old Law, primarily based on the Ten Commandments:  love your neighbor as yourself.  How you are to do that is outlined in the Beatitudes:

  1. Realize your need for God
  2. Mourn for one’s loss
  3. Be humble
  4. Hunger and thirst for justice
  5. Be merciful
  6. Be pure of heart
  7. Work for peace
  8. Do right even if others do not
  9. Stick to your beliefs even if others make fun of you.

10. Be happy

These are seemingly so simple that I am sure the change in one’s lifestyle during those ancient years really did appeal to the masses.  Remember that at this time the ‘good life’ was for those in power and for the priests in the tabernacle.

Which brings us back to the audience and Jesus’ teaching style.  If the tabernacle was so holy that only certain areas were open to the people, the working class, as we might know them today (or maybe we should call them the working poor class).  Add to that group of people, the ones living and working around the area that were not even Jewish, who were living outside of the Jewish faith.

Any speaker who can deliver a new idea with such success that the crowds start growing and growing into an unmanageable crowd who could only fit along the road on the side of a mountain, must be a gifted teacher and/or preacher.

The Sermon on the Mount was a beginning.  The crowds were curious, the tone was inviting, and promises sounded appealing.  Jesus was teaching these first followers methods to simplify their lives.  Following the Old Law was demanding and built upon fearful consequences.  Jesus’ message was different and provided hope to the masses.

For three years, Jesus continued walking the dusty paths, speaking to individuals, to families, to educated and uneducated.  The legal authorities were noticing a change in the communities, the priests were watching, too.  I even suspect that attendance during Sabbath services was diminishing, too.  Change was in the air!

In fact the change was also affecting the community’s daily business.  The legal authorities were becoming agitated, not to mention the Jewish priests.  The teaching and the preaching were not stopping, but the new followers enthusiasm became overshadowed by fear.   The movement grew but also became more secretive.  The crowds were closely watched, who was following whom was noted.  Still Jesus continued teaching, preaching, and healing with his following growing and growing.

As that Passover Week rolled around and three years of work was nearing completion (the Sermon of the Mount began Jesus’ career) now the Last Supper was going to close his earthly career.  The setting changes, the audience diminishes, and the seriousness of the gathering shifts to a tone of caution.

Jesus the teacher is now preaching.  He must reinforce his message and he needs his disciples to understand the importance of their role with each other as well as the newest followers.  He has taught, preached and healed without ceasing, but his time was ending.

Parents and teachers know that their role changes when children and students grow up and move on.  Jesus knew this too.  The promises shared in the Beatitudes would not be fulfilled if he did not complete his earthly job.

The Last Supper signaled the transition of teaching, preaching and healing from him to his Apostles.  And, as the Apostles hear the words we now use in the communion liturgy, they graduated with fear into new roles.  They were now to be the teachers, the preachers, and the healers.

Still, the setting and the tone of that final meal was filled with casual conversation, with laughter, with hope, with calm until Jesus commanded their attention and began explaining what was about to happen.  The clamor in the room stopped, the silence filled the room, and Jesus’ words filled the void (Matthew 26:21-24):

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.  . . .One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me.  For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago.  But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him.  It would be far better for that man if he had never been born.

Shock, bewilderment, defensiveness, horror, disbelief, and fear:  the emotions at that moment are far different than the emotions of the crowds listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  The hope and the promises listed in the Beatitudes suddenly become just distant memories as Jesus’ prepares his handpicked Apostles for the final phase of his ministry.

The simple act of sharing a meal with those closest to you creates a bond of trust.  The Last Supper, also known as Communion or the Eucharist, does this for each of us yet today.  We symbolize that meal with Jesus each time we take the cup and the bread.  As we remember how Jesus’ spent three years teaching, preaching, and healing, we also renew that bond with God.

God loves each and every one of us so much, that he came to this earth as Jesus to teach us, to preach to us, and to heal us.  The words of hope and promises delivered in the Beatitudes are as meaningful today as they were 2,000 years ago.

The rule, the one rule, simplifies our lives so much that we want to share it with others, too, because we know the difference it has made in our lives.  It is a rule that creates the Christ-filled lives we experience here on earth as well as leads to the promises of eternal life with God once our earthly lives are completed.

Thanks be to God for the gift of his Son and of the Holy Spirit as we live our lives to His glory.  May we be the Church, teaching, preaching and healing others so they may experience the grace and the love of God.

[At this time, join in the ritual of Communion.  Take the cup and the bread as a symbol of the bond between you and God.]

 

Closing Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, Jesus your son, and the Holy Ghost,

Thank you for the gifts you have given us

so we may join You in teaching, preaching, and healing.

We acknowledge our human weaknesses,

but we believe in your grace and your forgiveness.

Help us share that sense of hope found in the Beatitudes

with those who are lost and forlorn.

May our skills be instrumental in the transformation

of the lives of your children, young and old alike.

Through the sharing of the bread and the wine,

renew our bond, our commitment to You and to each other.

To Your glory, amen.

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