Humility is the connecting thread running through our lectionary readings this week. The prophet Micah recounts a vision of a divine lawsuit, in which God and the prophet and a representative of the Israelite community contend with one another. What is at issue is what God expects of his people, whom he has repeatedly protected and delivered from harm and hardship. The prophet is given the last word in this passage, speaking to Israel God’s truth: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Psalm 15, appointed for this week, takes up a similar theme. The psalm also focuses on who will be admitted into God’s presence—“who may abide upon your holy hill?” The answer, like the Beatitudes, is a list: one who walks blamelessly, who speaks the truth (which is also in his heart), who speaks no guile, who has no contempt, who rejects the wicked, who honors the Lord, who promises to do no wrong, who keeps his word, who gives without expecting gain.
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul explains to them the very un-Greek message of the cross of Christ. It is not informed by the classical notion of wisdom. To that worldview it appears as “foolishness,” Paul writes. The whole message of the gospel, as Paul presents it here, is narrowed down to one, shameful and degrading sign—the cross. The social stigma of Jesus’ crucifixion and death as a common criminal is the “vulgar joke” (“folly”) that gives meaning to the kingdom Jesus came to usher in. In the new order that begins with him, the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the first shall be last and the last first. God’s kingdom in no way resembles the powers and kingdoms of this world.
That is the message Jesus delivers in the Beatitudes, the thematic statement prefacing his whole discourse about being a part of the kingdom. Far from being a practical statement about a nice way to behave, these statements establish Jesus and his kingdom in direct opposition to the ways of this world. If you are afraid of looking foolish, then the way of following Jesus will be difficult for you. If you open yourself to find freedom in that foolishness, the kingdom is very near you.