The problem with the saying, “The grass is greener on the other side” is that I don’t like grass. Whenever I drive by those really nice manicured yards where every “piece of nature” is perfectly trimmed, pruned, or cut…I get a case of the willies. I like my nature a little “less tame” than that. Those yards look like work to me. I would need a saying like, “The depth of decaying pine combs is deeper on the other side of the mountain” or “The farther north you get, the wilder the country.” I like my nature on the wild and dangerous side where there is always the chance of getting stalked, mauled, or eaten. Not that I want to “get” any of those things, but the chance of those things means that there is little grass to cut, the trees don’t need trimmed and the wild mountain bushes have never seen a pair of pruning shears. It wouldn’t be factual of me to suggest that man does not have a “cutting-pruning-trimming” presence in these places. We certainly do, but to explain this impact, we need to see the forest for the trees…or the trees for the forest…or something like that.
For many of us, the wild places hold a certain allure. We are attracted to the deep dark forest, the high craggy peaks, the cold mountain lakes, and anyplace where the evidence of man’s crossing…diminishes. When my boot tracks are the only “man tracks” around, my impact on the land becomes more apparent. Leaving one sandwich wrapper on the ground seems like a major offense, a major sin, because of the contrast against the pristine environment. Unfortunately, leaving a sandwich wrapper on the ground at our local city parks just blends in to all of the other trash blowing around. Following a game trail in the back country somewhere always raises questions in my mind, “How old is this game trail? I wonder how many other people have followed this particular game trail?” As Americans, we know from our history, that many of our major highways were once game trails. An animal, taking the path of least resistance through our virgin forests, blazed a trail which would be followed by Native Americans, and then the hunters and trappers from Europe, and then these trails were widened an expanded to accommodate wagons, reinforced to hold the weight of the vehicles and so forth until it evolved into this mass transit highway system that now, ironically, kills the animals which try to cross it. Sounds an awful lot like “religion” to me.
Jesus said during the “Sermon on the Mount”, recorded in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
To understand what our Lord and Savior means by this statement, we need to understand the context of “to whom was He speaking”, and “when was He speaking”, and “what are the things to be added”…IF, we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The easy answers to these questions don’t capture the importance and relevance of His words to today’s generation of followers. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and the multitudes who were following Him around. This is the easy answer of “to whom.” Jesus addressed the multitudes on the mountain, and His disciples, at the beginning of His ministry. Again…this is the easy answer of “when.” The harder answer to these first two questions absolves the historical context of the message and applies it to us in this present day. In other words, Jesus is still speaking these words to us today. His message to us is still, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Before we dive into any questions about “How do we seek first?”, we should take some time to look at the promise contained at the end of the verse, “and all these things will be added to you.” What things…? This is the natural question, what are the promises Jesus speaks of here? To answer this, lets skip back to the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount” and look at the characteristics that Christ identifies as “Blessed.”
- poor in spirit (a realization of needing God)
- those who mourn (mourn over the sins of self, and the world)
- the gentle (a deliverer of patience and understanding)
- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (a longing for righteousness)
- the merciful (a deliverer of mercy and forgiveness)
- the pure in heart (undefiled by the filth of the world)
- the peacemakers (a deliverer of peace and love)
- those persecuted for their faith (persecuted because faith is lived out daily)
Any easy way to understand this list of “Blessed” characteristics, is to rewrite the list in its opposing form. Therefore, lets insert the word “Cursed”, instead of “Blessed”, and rewrite the list this way:
- proud in spirit, doesn’t need God
- those who relish in the sins of the world
- the bitter and angry
- those longing for debauchery and decadence
- the vengeful
- the stained impure heart
- the trouble makers, the ones who stir the pot
- the ones who have no outward expression of a “supposed” inward faith
It is interesting to me that my understanding of “Blessed” is enhanced when I examine the list from the perspective of “Cursed”. A common mistake that many of us fall into with this list is assuming that we are “Blessed” IF…we are gentle, mourn over sins, hunger and thirst, etc. This is not the case. What Jesus is saying here, as He begins His ministry as the Incarnate God in the flesh, is this, “After you have received Me (the “Blessing”), because you have first, sought My kingdom and My righteousness, your characteristics will include mercy, gentleness, a longing for righteousness, etc.” All of the characteristics that our identified with the “Blessing”, or with Christ, are possible because the kingdom and righteousness that is Christ…dwells within us. The reason why I identify much of my life with the “Cursed” characteristics is because I wasn’t receptive to the “Blessing”…I wasn’t receptive to the redemptive works of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate God living inside of me and directing my path.
What this (receiving Jesus as the “Blessing”) has to do with manicured lawns and game trails…is really the question about the wilderness of His Holy Presence and the role of the Church. A good segue into next weeks devotional. See you then…