Bonnie B. Thurston, a Disciples of Christ minister, looks at the life of Jesus and finds countercultural ways of seeing ourselves and being in his Sermon on the Mount. She begins with the Beatitudes which startle us by emphasizing values that are usually shunned by the world. Thurston is convinced that spiritual maturity comes when we begin to put into practice other virtues that Jesus espoused: namely charity, detachment, and humility. Love is the bond that draws us to our enemies and challenges us to see them as God sees them.
Thurston's explanation of the ethic of detachment is particularly good. She turns to the this assessment of it:
"In the 1960s Thomas Merton had an extensive correspondence with James Forest who was deeply involved in the peace movement and one of the founders of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Writing to him on February 21,1966, Merton says, 'Do not depend upon the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all. . . . As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.' The call is to be openhanded not only with regard to possessions, but also to the most dear 'possession,' the positive results of our apostolic work. Merton's letter to Forest continues: 'All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love.' ''The real hope . . . is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.' "
This is a very difficult spiritual teaching that addresses an issue many of us face when things aren't going well for us. The point is that results or making things happen are of no consequence to what Merton calls apostolic work. A mission driven life means paying no attention to numbers or any usual sign or signal of success.
Thurston also presents a subtle and sophisticated treatment of humility (see the excerpt). This Christian virtue that has been slighted in our times when prestige, status, and class distinctions hold sway in every area of culture. Jesus demonstrated through his life that all attempts to see ourselves as special or better than others goes against the grain of the kingdom of God where everyone is equal and "our common-ness" is emphasized. Putting ourselves first and refusing to step out of the way are sources of so much alienation our world. Thurston gives us this fresh perspective and manages to do the nearly impossible: open up the Sermon on the Mount as an undiscovered treasure!