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Related Bible reading(s): Micah 6.1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

Bible notes

Micah 6.1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

Micah 6.1-8

This passage in Micah is a dramatised exchange, opening with a kind of covenant ‘lawsuit’ in which God sets out a complaint: ‘O my people, what have I done to you?’

God then describes the saving acts involved in the exodus from Egypt: the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam; the deliverance from the curse planned by King Balak  (Numbers 22.2- 24.25); and the crossing of the river Jordan to begin the occupation of the land (Joshua 3 and 4). The people respond to God’s complaint with an  extravagant offer of worship and sacrifice – perhaps making the point that no amount of devotion would be recompense for God’s faithful actions. The prophet responds with a down-to-earth reminder of what God requires: not extravagance or any attempt to repay God, but a faithful day-by-day relationship in which our character reflects God’s values. 


Psalm 15 

The psalmist talks in detail about living with integrity within a community. Speaking the truth is important. Behaviour that stands against this is condemned, such as  slandering someone or joining in with making a neighbour into a scapegoat. Doing ‘what is right’ is described in monetary terms: not lending money at interest and not  taking a bribe. There is a constancy and consistency about people who ‘walk blamelessly’ – they stand by their oath even if it hurts them. The holiness of someone’s life  shows in these small immediate choices of every day.  


1 Corinthians 1.18-31

In drawing the Corinthians back to the shared centre of their faith, Paul gives us this deep discussion of the nature of the cross. He suggests that there are two opposite  ways of misunderstanding or rejecting the cross. The first is to be offended that it is not a sign of vindication, because it looks much more like a sign of defeat. The second  is to be offended that it does not lend itself to expressing a beautiful philosophy – it is far too violent for that. Perhaps both of these misunderstandings want the cross to  represent power in some way – either power through actions or through ideas. They both desire to prove a point. The cross itself crosses out both of these longings. It is  not a neat demonstration of victory and yet, to those who respond to God’s call, Christ becomes the power of God and the wisdom of God. There is something deeper here  than can be understood through discussions and taking sides (the very things that are dividing the Corinthian Christians). The cross gives a picture of something Paul can  even call the foolishness and the weakness of God, yet the miracle is that through the deepness of this mystery we receive a rescue and access to wisdom and goodness – all through Jesus Christ. 


Matthew 5.1-12

The eight-pointed Maltese cross is sometimes seen as representing the eight Beatitudes (vv.3-10). Many of these sayings contain a surprising reversal, such as the meek inheriting the earth. Reversals such as these are featured in the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55, especially vv.52-53) and give a feel of God intervening at a moment in history. Not all the Beatitudes focus on the future, however – the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for doing right already possess the kingdom of heaven. The word  ‘blessed’ can also be misleading here. Such a technical religious word can make these statements sound as if some kind of suffering or struggle besets a believer, and then  God ‘blesses’ them in order to recompense them for their difficulties. But the Greek word translated ‘blessed’ here means something closer to ‘O the happiness of…’ or even ‘Good for you!’ The ‘blessing’ – the ‘good fortune’ – is in the very situation that is difficult or demanding, rather than in some additional divine gift. There is a  different Greek word for giving a blessing in this sense (see James 3.10; Hebrews 12.17). 
What is Jesus saying in these startling statements at the beginning of this major sermon? I think we are being challenged to look at vulnerability, difficulties and challenges in a new way – not as signs that we are far from God or lacking in faith, but as if our pains can be the very birth pains of the kingdom of heaven. It is not being strong and knowing everything that marks us out as disciples but being openhearted to those around us.


See also: In conversation: Careful choices 

Rachel Nicholls and Jonathan Buckley discuss:
disappointment, loss and failure;
‘seeing and being the light’;
and learning to be humble.


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