Epiphany 4A, 2002
Matthew 5:1-12

A Liturgy is also available


A woman went into a marketplace, looked around,
and saw a sign that read: ‘God’s Fruit Stand.’
“Thank goodness.  It’s about time,” she said to herself.

She went inside and she said,
“I would like a perfect banana, a perfect cantaloupe, a perfect peach 
and six perfect strawberries.”

God, who was behind the counter, shrugged and said,
“I’m sorry.  I sell only seeds” (Shea 1997:53).


One of the first contemporary biblical theologians to recognise
the importance of imagination and story in the tradition of the Christian faith
was American, Amos N Wilder.

Way back in the 1960s he said this:
“Jesus’ speech had the character not of instruction and ideas but of compelling imagination, of spell, of mythical shock and transformation” (Wilder 1964/71:84).

Wilder identified that it is through imagination and story that God ‘speaks’.
That Christianity is a religion of imagination and the word.
And behind the particular gospel stories and images
lie a particular life-experience and a language-shaping faith.

Jesus of Nazareth and his first followers
broke into the world of speech and writing of their time,
with a novel and powerful utterance...

Not a word of instruction and ideas.
But a word of compelling imagination.

So far as we know Jesus never wrote a word, except on that occasion when,
in the presence of the woman taken in adultery, the storyteller says
‘he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground’.

In poetic terms we could say Jesus spoke as the birds sing,
“oblivious of any concern for transcription” (Wilder 1964/71:13) or written record.

Jesus was:
“a voice not a penman, a herald not a scribe” (Wilder 1964/71:13).

Less romantically we can say that Jesus’ use of the spoken word alone
has its own theological significance.
For writing things down has about it a sense of permanence.
It presupposes continuity and a future.

But the spoken word is temporary.
The words are gone as they are spoken.

What we call the ‘gospel’ arose out of a radical break, when
old customs and continuities were undermined.
And for storyteller Matthew that ‘radical break’ is contained
in the so-called ‘sermon on the mount’.


Most biblical scholars now days believe there was really no
such thing as a ‘sermon’ on the mount.In reality, they say, it was the work of the author of Matthew’s gospel,
(at least from Chapter 3 onwards… to the first two chapters were written by someone else…)
place Jesus within the Jewish tradition in general,and as another Moses, in particular.

Jesus, like Moses, goes up to the mountain and sits as he speaks,
demonstrating his authority, like that of Moses, as a teacher.

The question often asked about the Beatitudes
and other teachings on the mount is,
what did they mean for Jesus’ followers in the age after his death?

And what do they mean for us in the present age?

If the Beatitudes are seen as new laws given by Jesus
then one set of propositions follow.  However,
if the Beatitudes are the gospel, the good news,
then they can be seen as a gift – a re-imagining.

A re-imagining that invites our response in favour of those
who are adversely affected by the goings-on  of the ‘empire’.

A response that will want to do away with that which
imprisons others.

For me, I favour the later.
The Beatitudes are not a new set of laws, but following the metaphor
of my opening story, seeds offered as a gift of Creativity God.

God does not offer perfection - or perfect fruit.
God offers the seedsand invites and lures us to plant them…
And then constantly care for them as they become.

In our openness to g-o-d or the sacred, we become
a constant unfolding, a never-ceasing development.

Why do I favour the latter?
Because it is both realistic and hopeful in the same breath.
It recognises limit, incompleteness and failure.
But it refuses to absolutise these states.  There is always the lure forward.

The Beatitudes remind us:
Creativity God -  is doing something new in our midst
and we can ill afford to ignore it.

Change is!  Life refuses to be embalmed alive!

And you... you who may be 25 or 85 or 65…
you also have the possibility of striking out on a new path.
For you are a seed burgeoning toward a ripeness never achieved
but always in the process of achieving.

A product of g-o-d’s fruit stand, becoming,
in this moment and in every moment to come.

Shea, J. The Legend of the Bells and Other Tales: Stories of the Human Spirit. Chicago. ACTA Publications, 1997.
Wilder, A. N. Early Christian Rhetoric. The Language of the Gospel. Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 1964/71.