1. The Sermon on the mount
The sermon on the mount and plain.
Jesus’ first notable discourse is what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount (he had a similar sermon on the plain that is narrated in Luke). We believe that all of His teachings are bound in this sermon. To understand the sermon on the mount is to understand fully what Jesus Christ wishes for us.
(Matthew 5:1-7:29). The sermon on the mount is presented to a mixed ethnic group, many of whom have been healed or delivered but who now need to be instructed in the ways of following Jesus. The primary audience for the discourse are his own disciples. The sermon is thus for those committed to Jesus as his followers. The traditional location is on a hillside overlooking the northern shore of the sea of Galilee.
The primary underlying message both in the sermon on the mount and in all His other teachings is that we are simply passing through this world as pilgrims or sojourners. He teaches us to have disdain for what is earthly and focus on what is heavenly.
He first tackles what we call the beatitudes. We get the word beatitude from the latin word for blessing. The word “blessed” Makarios (in greek) means more than just being happy. It is more the equivalent of “receiving Gods approval”. So effectively, we conjecture that the beatitudes are actually “the secrets for pleasing God”. If this interpretation is correct, then it, without a doubt, ranks among the most powerful revelations from the scriptures.
The blessings come to those who demonstrate the proper heart attitudes and related actions.The blessings are a mixed bag of what can be enjoyed now and in the future.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 1.”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
To be poor in spirit relates to being reliant on God, rather than on self (poor in the spirit of self reliance). This tends to be the case especially among the poor who simply do not have the earthly wherewithal to address the problems they face. They turn to God for everything. A rich man on the other hand may feel that he has the earth in the palm of his hand and nothing is beyond his ability to resolve. Having material things at our ready disposal does make us feel that we are in control.
So, how are we to approach this beatitude practically? I think that as a rule of thumb we should take everything to God in prayer, even if we think it is something we can resolve easily. The more our world view moves towards a Jesus world view, what may initially appear to be the obvious solution, may turn out to be the very thing we want to avoid. The more we rely on God and wait for his guidance the more you become become better acquainted with the wider dimensions of the issue or problem being tackled. With practice, it becomes the norm to rely on God for all. You slowly but surely start to see the way God sees.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 2.“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Mourning is in regards to reflecting on what is holy (and thus perfect) compared to our present reality (sinful nature). If you have lamented at the state of the world (one that lacks compassion; is driven by greed; cares not for the poor ) and so on, then you have mourned. You have mourned at the depravity of your fellow man. You have mourned for your own sins. You continuously mourn at your inability to be perfect as your Lord wishes for you to be. It is impossible for us to achieve perfection. Our mortal nature means that we are constantly dogged by sin and worldliness, however our perfection is attained in our continual struggle to live as Christ taught regardless of the failures we encounter. Keep at it; our Lord will reward you for it.
As we mature in the Christian walk and our conscience is developed, we may look on the past with horror at the things we have done; we also look in horror at the goings on around us. Christ promises that we will be comforted.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 3.“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
First of all let us define what it means to be meek. It’s to be quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive. Other synonyms are patient, long-suffering, forbearing, resigned and so on.
So, if I can put it in my own words, to be meek is to be a “sucker” as far as the world is concerned. I can see that I am being taken advantage of, but I allow it to happen. You can see through peoples objectives but you simply act the fool. This is a hard thing to accept for any self respecting person, but it is what the Lord asks of us.
Ambition and vanity for example are considered good by today’s world and are the exact opposite of meekness. Ambition trods on the shoulders of others while vanity is about self promotion; the Lord says no! In the past ambition was considered harmful for obvious reasons. Today, its considered a sign of self reliance.
It is not possible to see the value in the two great commandments, especially the second (loving your neighbour as yourself) if you have these traits. Our Lord says no! If you fail to be meek, you will not be able to practice the teachings that lead us to the next stage (namely the after life).
Meekness goes with humility. Humility is an attitude of mind that intentionally aims to lower our sense of self importance. I am up here and you are down there, as a consequence I am better than you. This is the way of the world, and it is pure folly. I have met many poor people, and I have seen great nobility in their midst. I have also met many rich, and I have seen great fools with money.
So, how do we practically approach humility and meekness? I think it’s best to simply keep the thought in one’s mind constantly. Our Lord was meek; why not me? Our Lord was humble; why not me? Our Lord lived in poverty; why not me? Our Lord disdained ambition in favour of servant leadership (long suffering servant), why not me? Make no mistake, this is a hard thing indeed to keep practicing but the Lord insists that we do.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 4.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.”
To have a Jesus world view is to want to be morally right in all that we do. By adhering to His teachings, it seems a natural progression that we will naturally want to excel in righteousness and avoid sin and the occasions of sin.The beatitude also touches on justice as a principle. Those keen to expedite and see justice done fairly are key to righteousness on the earth.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 5.“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy”
If I was to choose a word to describe our Lord, it would be mercy and merciful.
He kept saying over and over again, that he came for mercy and not sacrifice. This means that he did not come to condemn but rather to rescue.
The Jews were religious people that lived according to religious rules. Sin was something that was to be snuffed out, especially if of a grievous nature. I particularly like the story of the adulterous woman (John 8: 1-11). This woman, according to the law of Moses, should have been stoned. There was nothing else for it, since the law was clear. The Pharisees were in constant debate with Jesus on his teachings, and they used the occasion to test Jesus (and possibly embarrass him should he fail to give the correct determination). Jesus demonstrated mercy, by agreeing with the Pharisees that she should be stoned, however he also gave the caveat that the first to cast a stone, should be without sin! What great mercy!
The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18: 21-35), also demonstrates the principle of mercy well. God forgives us, when we confess and pray for forgiveness. How can we expect forgiveness from the almighty, if we are unable to forgive others (no matter the gravity of the trespass against us)? Let us learn to be merciful and forgiving, no matter how stupid we may look in the eyes of the world. What matters is how God sees our hearts, not how the world looks at us.Yes! It is a hard thing, but the Lord demands it of us.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 6.“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”
This is a truly child like quality; to have innocence untouched by the motives of men. I don’t know if it is possible to muster, except for the saint like.The practical thinking for this is simply having no ulterior motives in everything we do. No double speak, no hidden agendas, be forthright and clear.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 7.“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”
War and violence are always the easier alternatives since they immediately help us to assert our pride and ego over others. To sue for peace is ordinarily, in the world of men, to be seen as weak. The strong are self reliant and have the wherewithal to fight. The practical teaching is to aim for peace at all times, even if we are clearly the stronger party. A sure sign that you are succeeding is when people
deride you for showing weakness.
Sermon on the mount beatitude 8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
This is my favorite beatitude. The sure sign that you are living through the lens of a Jesus world view and practicing His teachings is that the world will ridicule and persecute you. If the world ridicules you or persecutes you, rejoice, for indeed your gift is great indeed!Remember our conjectured meaning of the beatitudes, “behavior that God approves of”; If there is a secret to living, then the beatitudes are the greatest open secrets of all time; available only to those who seek them out!
The beatitude refers to the entitlements that those who have mustered mammon assume. I am rich and thus entitled and thus above others and the law pertaining to others. For the lovers of this beatitude, we are all one under God and all have the same rights regardless of societal ranking.
It must never evade us that it is an accident of history, genetics, geography, economics and so on that we find ourselves where we are. To imagine that we are better than the beggar on the street; the village idiot; the low IQ person; the drunkard; the drug addicted; the person with a different skin color and so on is foolhardy. Death, the great equalizer will judge on the basis of what you have been given. To whom much is given, much will be judged and vice versa. In death, the beggar and the King are one; each a creation of the Lord, who does not favor one over the other. Don’t place yourself on a pedestal that does not exist, but rather seek the humanity that we all belong to.
I recently attended the funeral of a man whom I thought very highly of, who was of very modest means. In the eulogy, we became aware that his father insisted that he work rather than proceed to an ivy league university where he had a full scholarship. His life on earth may have been radically different (materially) had he attended the university. In the past I would have thought poorly of the father, however on reflection, it really does not matter. What matters is what I did with what I was given and how you will be judged on death (based on what I had and how I used it). I refer you to the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12: 13-21) to fully understand my drift.
Kingdom spirituality (as described in the beatitudes) is an inside out quality, requiring constant reflection on the character of God. There is also a clear expectation that all his disciples, followers or adherents will face prosecution or at the very least opposition to this “Jesus or Christian world view”. It is not any different today. Let us practice the beatitudes daily and make it habitual.
Continuation of the sermon on the mount:
Sermon on the mount; a disciples influence (Matt 5: 13-16).Disciples are described as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt enhances and preserves while light illumines and reveals. We should be the same in our relationship with the world. We cannot be like the world; we must be different. It’s pointless calling oneself a Christian if we are going to act like everyone else. We must be different, Salt and Light!
Sermon on the mount; Jesus fulfills the law and brings heart righteousness (5: 17-20). Jesus is Lord of the law and the prophets. He did not come to abolish but rather to fulfill. He stresses its true purpose and intention. Kingdom righteousness should equate heart righteousness. This righteousness is illustrated by affirming and reinterpreting Old testament tradition (5: 21-48): Jesus condemns murder, but warns against the anger that leads to it; Disciples must seek reconciliation whenever possible; He condemns adultery along with lust; He warns against divorce except through unfaithfulness;He condemns swearing oaths and asks his disciples to be people of integrity; Instead of retaliation He tells his disciples to respond to personal insult with kindness and generosity; Finally we are to pray for our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Sermon on the mount; practicing authentic acts of piety (Matt 6: 1-18). Kingdom righteousness manifests itself in authentic acts of piety such as alms giving, praying and fasting. I believe many of us give alms, and pray but other than Catholics (only for the obligatory 40 days in lent), i don’t hear much of any other Christian community that fasts. We encourage fasting to all; it works, both for the spirit and even for the general health of the body.
We are however not to practice our piety for the purpose of impressing people (by having them see us or informing them of our pious acts). All should be done in secret for the eyes of God only; who will also reward you in secret. There is something very noble about keeping these acts of piety to one self. This however does contrast with other religions that seem to promote public worship anywhere and everywhere.
Sermon on the mount; kingdom priorities related to wealth and worry (Matt 6: 19-34). Above all we should trust God and seek first His kingdom and righteousness. He instructs us to pursue heavenly treasures which are permanent and secure rather than earthly treasures which are temporary and fleeting. If you are reading this, then you certainly see the need for foresight, in managing both your earthly and heavenly treasures. The natural tendency is to spend our time worrying about earthly aims, however this should change, at the least in an equal proportion in our day to day activities.
I give myself three goals to be achieved daily.The first for God, the second for neighbor and the third for me issues. The first I achieve by prayer, attending mass or reading scripture (normally early in the day, so that my thinking throughout the day is ordered around this interaction with my maker). The second goal is to treat my neighbour as I would myself. Essentially, I check my words, thoughts and actions in response to my neighbour. It’s easy to forget, but if you make it a habit, you tend to be more aware of what you are saying or doing. Finally, I work on what I will eat, drink and so on and pray for the same.
He then speaks of the eye, as the lamp of the body. The eye here is the soul. If its priorities are heavenly then it will illumine light. The converse is true for earthly goals. This may be able to explain the inexplicable. Greed, is the origin of statements like…”What matters is the end and not the means to it”….” Human trafficking”…” blood diamond wars”….” arms trading in war zones”… “slavery”..” genocide”…” the selling of drugs”… and so on.. all these aim for power or money or both at any cost… imagine the blackness of the soul when driven by a lust for mammon (money and all other earthly things).
We can either love money (and its synonyms) and use people or love God and help people. People who don’t know God pour all their energies into meeting their own needs, but disciples should learn to trust rather than worry. We should pursue Gods concerns, abandon worry and trust him to take care of us.It is hard to imagine, harder still to practice, but it is demanded of us.
Sermon on the mount; kingdom relationships (Matt 7: 1-12). We should not judge others. This is in regard to how God sees them; for we are not God and cannot see their innermost thoughts and actions. This is highly misunderstood to mean that we cannot be discerning. How can we not be? For instance, if we view somebody as having poor character, then they are best avoided.This is discerning judgement for us and not a delivery of final judgement on them.
Discernment grows from the wisdom/moral compass that we have. You must use it to thread your way through this world, lest you find yourself casting your pearls before swine and they trample you underfoot; being completely uninterested in the kingdom life and all its attendant hardships and sacrifices.
Jesus closes the sermon on the mount with the golden rule; in everything do to others what you would have them do to you. This goes for disciples and gentiles. The parable of the good Samaritan, brings the gentiles into this fold. Obviously we all imagine neighbours are those exactly like us (tribe, religion, colour and so on). Jesus, extends this to all. Frankly, what better way for Christians to be salt of the earth than adhering to this? I see this with missionaries of all Christian denominations. They are truly salt. We are asked to do the same in our lay lives.
Conclusion of the sermon on the mount. We must either choose for Jesus, or go against him. Matt 7: 13-27. The narrow gate (the one less traveled and harder) leads to life while the wide gate (being and acting like everyone else) leads to destruction. The life of a disciple or adherent requires sticking to the principles that Jesus has given us; it is certainly the harder option, but the one that leads to life; we must be the salt of the earth and in so doing we will produce good fruit and our houses will not be swept away in the flood to come. The sermon on the mount encapsulates all of Jesus teachings and what it really means to be a Christian; a follower of Christ.