Sermon on the mount
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 Jesus teachings are bound in this Sermon. To understand the Sermon is to understand what Jesus wishes for us. (Matthew 5:1-7:29). It 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 traditional location is on a hillside overlooking the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He first tackles what we call the “beatitudes”. We get the word beatitude from the latin word for blessing. The word “blessed” means “to receive favor from God”. If you desire Gods favour, simply live the beatitudes. The blessings or beatitudes from the Sermon 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. The beatitudes (all eight of them) and related explanations are as follows:
“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. Essentially forestall every decision with prayer. 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 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.
“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 or formed along the lines of a Jesus world view, 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.
“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 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. You can see through people’s objectives but you simply act the fool. Blatant or selfish ambition and vanity are considered good by today’s world and are the exact opposite of meekness. Excess arises when all decorum, morals, scruples and so on are thrown out of the window. Only winning matters, regardless of how it is done. “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 people, and I have seen great fools with money. Our Lord sees the heart and not the bank accounts.
Meekness goes with humility. Humility is an attitude of mind that intentionally aims to lower our sense of self-importance. 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 minimally, why not me? Our Lord disdained ambition in favor of servant leadership (long suffering servant), why not me? For those endowed with plenty, the temptation to think themselves better than others always lingers. What we must never forget is that we all belong to the race of human beings, and we have all arrived similarly into the world and will leave in a similar manner. Between the advent of our lives and our eventual demise, is a concoction of fate that accounts for all our differences ranging from skin colour, language, economics, genetics, geography, intelligence, brain size and so on. It is only a fool who advances the notion that because I am cleverer than person X, I am therefore better. The sermon on the mount suggests that we take on the responsibility of taking care of our neighbor because of the benefit we have been endowed with, be it wealth, social advantages, genetic advantages and so on; let your strength be your meekness and not the advantage that sets you apart. They say that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I also say that to whom much has been given, much will be judged.
The greatest men and women in the world, while not necessarily Christians, have tended to adopt meekness as part of their character. By simply placing themselves beneath everyone else, they would naturally have everyone’s ear. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and so on. Not only are they great, but they were also exceptionally intelligent, and saw the need to use their gifts for noble human wide aims. This is true meekness. As I type this am watching Extreme Makeover: Home edition: the spirit of helping each other rarely takes into consideration any of our differences, people help other human beings simply because they are in a position to do so and it makes them feel good.
“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. To live this beatitude is to choose a Jesus or Christian world view.
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy”
If I was to choose an adjective to describe our Lord, it would be 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 (or demand sacrifices) 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 embarrass him should he fail to give the correct determination). Jesus demonstrated his knowledge of the law, by agreeing with the Pharisees that she should be stoned, however he also demonstrated great mercy through the caveat that the first to cast a stone should be without sin! Jesus refined the law by adhering to the spirit of the law rather than its literal meaning.
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.
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
This is a truly childlike 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.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
War and violence are always the easier alternative since they immediately help us to assert our pride and ego over others. To sue for peace is ordinarily to be seen as weak. The practical teaching is to aim for peace at all times, even if we are clearly the stronger party. This is not natural to us, but the beatitude requires that we rise above our natural inclinations. All peacemakers suing for peace between individuals or nations are true sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
This is my favorite beatitude. Justice and righteousness is accorded to all mankind regardless of station. The sure sign that you are living this beatitude is that the world will ridicule and persecute you for demanding justice and righteousness for all. If the world ridicules you or persecutes you, rejoice, for your gift in the afterlife is great indeed! For the lovers of this beatitude, it is understood that 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.
The beatitude touches on justice as a principle. Those keen to expedite and see justice done are key to righteousness on the earth. The law (both moral and legal) is there to serve society and should certainly not treat “the haves” in a manner different to the “have not’s”. It is astonishing how the judiciary and police collude to deny people justice simply because they are poor in some countries and how the rich get away with almost anything in others. Having taken the time to understand the Sermon on the Mount, I find more and more that my conscience is deeply tormented by such accounts. The actions of those who deny the poor justice and the rich that buy their justice is shortsighted. Why do we forget that we are simply pilgrims passing through. At death we are all equal and will be judged before Gods court, who does not favor one over the other, rich or poor.
The beatitude also touches on the mysterious ways of God in the dispensation of Justice. Am sure you understand what I means, when you ask yourself how pockets of justice continue to exist even when it appears that corruption and apathy have cascaded and taken over the globe. The Judge who ignores the threats and rules fairly; the attorney who chose to represent pro bono out of a pang of conscience; the policeman that did the right thing despite having been corrupt throughout his career ; the business man that chooses humanity to profit; the priest that cannot be bought or intimidated; the white man that stands for black civil rights; and so on.
Kingdom spirituality (as described in the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount generally) 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 them habitual in line with the Sermon on the Mount and receive Gods approval or blessings..
Additional teachings from the sermon:
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 as demanded by the Lord by living the beatitudes.
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 to 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.
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. 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.
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. So, how do we go about achieving this? Personally 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 neighbor as I would myself. Essentially, I check my words, thoughts and actions in response to my neighbor. 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. Of course these activities are dynamic rather than linear and occur throughout the day.
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 (blatant ambition)… 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 Christian 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.
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 discernment for us and not a delivery of final judgment 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 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 neighbors are those exactly like us (tribe, religion, color 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 as they roam the world seeking new disciples for Christ. We are asked to do the same in our lay lives.
Conclusion: 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 in the Sermon on the Mount. 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 encapsulates all of Jesus teachings and what it really means to be a Christian. We encourage you to share the teachings of the Sermon with all that you love. It is the true foundation of Christian living.
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