Everyone who can hold the attention of a large crowd knows how to provide for whatever satisfies universal human desires. And what appeals to the crowd does so, because on a smaller scale, it meets the interests of the individual. Jesus had already welcomed those who lacked power and position. He had identified with those who were trying to cope with grief. He empowered others who lacked the ability to assert themselves.
Through his healing ministry he had provided excitement, spectacle and adventure on a scale to compete with anything else on offer. What other desires could be addressed?
Food, friendship, sex, knowledge, all would have their place under appropriate conditions and the crowd situation could provide for public attention to most, but not all, of these. The area that Jesus chose to highlight next is righteousness – a sense of what is right and what is just. King David had written much in the Psalms about righteousness but this did not imply that he led a blameless life. On the contrary, a student song in the 1950s went:
Solomon and David lived most unholy lives
Running round the countryside with other people’s wives,
When at last their consciences began to give them qualms
Solly wrote the proverbs and Davy wrote the Psalms
So King David knew about righteousness but didn’t always practise it. What made him a worthy example to follow was that he confessed his wrongdoing and was sorry for what he had done. Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus through David and Solomon, the child of Uriah’s wife with David, and Jesus accepted the title ‘son of David’. Jesus knew about people, he knew what ‘made them tick’; at times he knew what they were thinking but somehow avoided the kind of unrighteous mistakes they made. Caring for doing the right thing and promoting justice were at the top of the list of the desires which he wanted the crowd to seek. He wanted them to want righteousness with the kind of insatiable longing that they readily gave their other pleasures. He said: Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
And he knew the value of right thinking as a basis for right action. He told the crowd that unless their righteousness surpassed that of local religious groups, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Just not committing murder was not enough; he taught that if you are angry with your brother without cause you will be judged, and even if you don’t commit adultery like David but have looked lustfully at a woman, then you have committed adultery in your heart. It was the lustful thought that had provided the motivation for King David’s crime of murder and subsequent act of illegitimate sex.
As a person thinks in his heart, so he really is.
Song: Know yourself
Tune: Aurelia, S.S.Wesley, WOV 385. Knowingly! Moderato.
Most people know what hunger is for daily food and sex,
But wanting what is righteous is so much more complex.
In fact, we sometimes find there is pleasure in our sin,
We do what we know we shouldn’t, despite the odds to win.
A first attempt to change this state is ‘knowing what goes on’,
To want to change is part-way there, desire can drive us on.
And, given time, our thoughts dictate behaviour we enact,
A change for good comes pre- and post-, as well as in- the act.
In turn this change in doing things, affects an inner core,
A goal directed past ourselves, may in the end do more;
There’s finer fun in doing right, although it’s meant for others,
For us, not them; perhaps it’s both - that makes them more our brothers.