What’s your favorite Bible passage?
Judging from football games, scripture cites on car bumpers and even graffiti, the popular answer is John 3:16. I don’t know if seeing those signs ever inspires anyone to look up the passage, but if they did, they would find what many consider to be a summary of the Gospel message:
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have ever-lasting life.”
To paraphrase: Jesus saves us from the inevitability of damnation, a sentence we deserve because our sins so offend God that He has no choice but to send us to hell, until he sent Jesus to change those rules, rescuing those who believe.
Picking up one line to represent an entire message has its dangers, mostly that we ignore the Gospel story. Nothing similar to John 3:16 is found in the other three Gospels, primarily because John tends to offer commentary on Jesus’ words and actions, while the other Gospels simply report the action. The particular theological formula that has been associated with this passage is only one facet of the bigger Jesus’ story. Posters leave out.
Expanding our perspective to another Gospel, we find a completely different focus–each Gospel has a different focus. In Matthew’s version of Jesus’ story, Matthew portrays Jesus as a new Moses, offering a new Law. That Law is found in Matthew 5 and 6, beginning with the Beatitudes. From Matthew’s perspective, this is the Gospel core: Jesus commands not simply the intellectual assent of belief, but a new way of living. This new Law requires a new perspective, namely that of God’s. Seeing what God sees causes us to love what God loves and share God’s priorities.
How would taking the Beatitudes seriously change our perspective?
How would our priorities and judgments change? What might we imagine God calling us to do in the world? The Beatitudes are hard to categorize. They are a new Law, but not simply a matter of right and wrong. The blessings Jesus offer have to do with God’s priorities. God’s will is less concerned with our intellectual belief and more about how our priorities echo God’s.
What would be different if we valued being poor in spirit, that is, dependent on God? What if we were concerned with righteousness or peace as real purposes in our world? What if we understood what it meant to mourn and be comforted?
The Beatitudes are too complicated for a sign at a football game, but the real Christian difference is in these new priorities, not in the assertion that our ideas about life are the only right ideas–everyone thinks that! So how do we demonstrate Beatitude priorities? Are they in Trinity’s life, our conversation or choices? How does your life reflect this law? Answering that question will give us a message worth sharing as Good News.