The second mountain: Trust someone

Sermon on the Mount (2nd Sunday in Lent, 5 March 2023, by Rev. Martin Malina)

You can’t do this journey without trusting someone. Or, at least, trusting life—that something good lies beyond the next ridge on our Lenten journey. It’s a disposition of the heart, to nurture a trust in someone else who travels with you.

After Jesus is tempted on the mount of temptation, he begins his ministry, his calling. This part of his life is not recognized in the traditional creeds of the church. Which is unfortunate because we miss a significant aspect in the message God wants to bring to us in how to live a life of faith on earth. How to journey well.

On the Mount of Whistler (overlooking Whistler BC, photo by M Malina August 2019)

After descending the mount of temptation in the first week of Lent, we now climb the mount of beatitudes. From this mountain top[1] Jesus delivers his famous ‘sermon on the mount’. Well-known passages from Jesus’ speech include the beatitudes, the golden rule and instructions on how to pray. It is here Jesus gains the reputation of being a teacher and is therefore granted the title “Rabbi” in the Jewish faith.

It is how Nicodemus, a leader of Israel, first addresses Jesus when he encounters him in our Gospel reading for today[2]. He calls Jesus, “Rabbi”. A teacher.

But Jesus challenges Nicodemus by turning the tables on him. He says to Nicodemus, “You are a teacher yourself, and yet you do not understand this?” Does Nicodemus try to resist the implication that those have lived long can still be ‘born again’, and change? Good teachers will always challenge us to grow. 

Who are your teachers? And how do you respond? Will you trust them?

Nicodemus approaches Jesus with a little bit of uncertainty. He is learning to trust Jesus. But he is not a spy trying to test Jesus like the other Pharisees were wanting to do; otherwise, he would not need to find Jesus at night to talk to him. And, rather than ask whether Jesus was a teacher, he declares up front that Jesus was a teacher sent from God. Nicodemus’ manner and words indicate he was an honest seeker of Jesus, still trying to figure it out for himself.

And eventually he does! Later in the Gospel of John we discover that Nicodemus did in fact become a follower of Jesus. Nicodemus did learn to trust him. First, by defending Jesus publicly in front of other Pharisees,[3] and then showing up in the garden to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.[4] Nicodemus had a change in heart which allowed him to trust Jesus. He was, you could say, born again!

The life and leadership of former bishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero (1917-1980), illustrates how our hearts are changed by who we consider our teachers.

When the name Oscar Romero is mentioned, I first think of his dramatic assassination right at the altar where he was giving mass. His name is associated first with the horror of his violent death. Similar to the Creed’s exclusive focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection, by focusing only on Romero’s death we miss what had changed in his life when he sought another teacher.

At first, in his role as priest, then bishop, Oscar Romero assumed that the ways of God were in fairly close alignment with the priorities of the Roman Catholic magisterium and the Salvadoran government. For him, at this time, Romero saw in Jesus someone who could be used to defend his country’s status quo. You could say the Catholic Church in accordance with the government were his ‘teachers’.

But when he opened his heart to the love of God, his vision changed. He saw the love of God expressed by the common people. And that is when he found the courage to align himself with love. He decided to live in solidarity with the poor and learn from them the ways of God. Poor people, rather than priests, professors, and politicians, would now be his teachers.[5]

During the funeral service last week of the late Paul Bosch, a former professor of mine at Martin Luther University College in Waterloo, the preacher, Bishop Michael Pryse, recalled a teaching Paul Bosch had offered to him.

A group of ordained pastors were visiting a religious retreat centre north of Toronto early in Bishop Pryse’s ministry when he was still a pastor. Upon entering the chapel there, Paul Bosch translated from an inscription above the altar which said, in Latin: “sic Deus delexit mundum”. The standard translation of that phrase—sic Deus delexit mundum—was the well-known verse from John 3:16 in our Gospel reading today: “For God so loved the world …” 

However, Paul Bosch went on to say that the Latin verb ‘delexit’ is also the root of our English phrase, “to take delight”. In other words, not only does God love the world, but God also takes delight in what God created. God takes delight in us. God enjoys creation, takes delight in all that is.

And, if God so loved the world and takes delight in us and in everyone God created, God must also trust us. When you love someone, you trust them.

When God gave Abraham the mission to leave his hometown and journey to far away Canaan,[6] God entrusted this mission to him, because God loved him. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, Jesus trusted his companions on the journey, because he loved them. When Jesus preaches that blessed are the poor, the meek, those who are persecuted for my sake, when Jesus teaches us to love others the way we want to be loved, God is placing an incredible, almost unbelievable, amount of trust in us. 

Martin Luther taught that the favored, preferred, definition of faith was not belief so much as trust. To have faith, is not to believe something but to trust someone. And so, on this second leg of our Lenten pilgrimage to the five mountains in Matthew’s Gospel, as we make our way down the mount of beatitudes today, the second tip for our journey is: Trust someone on the way.

And we can trust that God won’t disappoint. We can trust that despite our failure and shortcomings in trusting others, God will always trust us, will always be faithful to us in life and in death.

[1] In the Gospel of Matthew, read chapters 5-7

[2] John 3:1-17

[3] John 7:50-51

[4] John 19:39

[5] Richard Rohr, “A Deeper Way of Love” Week Eight: The Way of Jesus (Daily Meditations,, 21 Feb 2023)

[6] Genesis 12:1-4a

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