Up to this point, Jesus was on pace to be an A-List celebrity in no time. Not more than a few months into his public ministry, he already has a solid inner circle of loyal followers. Even if you account for the unusual choices among them. More impressively, he had already preached in the synagogues and publicly healed paralytics and cast out demons. He was quickly becoming a big deal. He was beginning to attract a crowd wherever he went.
Ask yourself a question here. What would you do? How would you capitalize on your newfound fame? Now assume you are working from motives unstained by greed, lust, and fear. And assume you were a Jew living under Roman rule in your homeland.
It would not be overly optimistic to propel the wheels of change at this point. Perhaps your methods could be unorthodox. Predating Ghandi by a couple of thousand years, your efforts to nonviolently overthrow injustice would at least be recognized with the benefit of hindsight.
The religious leaders were certainly expecting something along these lines. Why else would this son of a carpenter place himself in such a high profile position? They were already waiting for the other shoe to drop. They were waiting for him to lay out his plan for political action. And perhaps they would have gone along with something as unorthodox as nonviolence.
Jesus, in the first visibly strategic moment in his ministry, leads the crowds up into the hills and sits down as they gather around. It is a game of cat-and-mouse as the incarnate God draws the people out of the cities to teach them in quiet places.
When we see Jesus taking a seat on the hills, we are reminded of Moses, so many years ago, standing on top of the mountain, bringing the word of God down to the people. In those days, the mountain shook and the people trembled. Now, as Jesus sits down on a hill to bring his word, we have a new picture.
This is a God who will meet with his people.
This is a God who will look his people in the eye.
This is a God who will surprise his people with unmeasured goodness.
This is a God who will play with his people.
What would you do if your cause was gaining momentum? If you were gaining popularity? If you were gaining power?
Jesus takes our ideas, our ideals, our best intentions, and does the exact opposite. He slows down. He speaks in words that are stripped of their regality, just as he has stripped himself of all the trappings of divinity. He shatters the expectations of a person in his position. He engages the hearts and minds of the crowds. He goes beyond what we could have possibly imagined.
God comes down in the flesh and does the unexpected.
He plays with us.