Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Recap of Chapters 5 & 6
We’ve read through two chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, and we are a little over half way to Easter. This is a good time to pause and summarize. See if you can follow the thread of what Jesus is saying in what we’ve covered so far.
- This Sermon on the Mount is a spiritual manifesto, a charter for the community that Jesus wants to create. For the first decades of its existence, this community was simply called “The Way.” Jesus is setting out The Way in these verses.
- This called-out community (ekklesia, or church) is to live with an unearthly happiness, as a prophetic community (Matthew 5:1-16).
- They are not throwing the Bible out of the window (5:17-20), though fundamentalists may be jealous of their freedom. Instead, they are letting their attitudes and relationships be shaped by a deeper reality to which the Biblical rules are pointing. Jesus is not lowering the bar; he is raising it (Matthew 5:21-42).
- All of the law and prophets point to the ethic of impartial love (5:43-48) for all people and for all creation. We are meant to love completely, and are fulfilled as humans when we do.
- Complete love means we don’t perform religiosity for social acceptance. Giving, praying, and fasting are between us and God. We are neither like the religious hypocrites nor like those who do not know God (6:1-18).
- Because we are one with all of humanity, we recognize that grace and forgiveness is the only thing that sustains us. We must free ourselves from karma—we cannot function on a theology of deserving (6:12-15).
- Attachment to wealth is a trap. Our relationship to money can distort our hearts, our perception, and our relationship to God. It can skew our vision of the world, and compromise our inner light (6:19-24).
- Our attachment to money is not simply greed; it is a symptom of our fear. By keeping our attention on the present moment and the life around us, we can free ourselves from worry about the future (6:25-34).
Since so much of what Jesus is saying is about attitudes, thinking, and emotions, we often hear these words as if they are addressed to us as individuals. Certainly Jesus means all of this to apply individually. But all of these instructions are also supposed to be characteristics of the community as a whole. When he describes conventional “being nice,” Jesus asks, “Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (5:46-47). Y’all are supposed to be different, Jesus implies—not to get praise from others (6:1), but to shine a light into the world (5:16), the way God’s sun (and love) shines on everyone regardless of who they are (5:45-48).
Jesus doesn’t describe how we should implement these ideas. He leaves the details up to us.
I recommend going back and reading the first two chapters again. As you read, ponder the fact that Mahatma Gandhi said he read the Sermon on the Mount every day. What do you think he saw in it that brought him back so often?