Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
The Crowd Responds
When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts. (Matthew 7:28-29 CEB)
- For the last three chapters, all of the words belong to Jesus. This is the first place the camera turns back to his audience.
- Remember, there are actually two audiences here: a) “the crowds” (more on this word in a minute), and b) the disciples. Way back in chapter 5, when Jesus started preaching, Matthew wrote “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them, saying…” (5:1-2).
- I have been contending in these devotionals that Jesus’s teaching is not for “the crowds.” It is for his disciples, because Matthew’s Jesus fully intends to start the church. The church, at least for Matthew, is not an accidental byproduct of people chasing spiritual enlightenment. The church is a community of learners (the word “disciple” means student) who are studying The Way.
- So Jesus, as a teacher, has a particular pedagogy (a theory of learning). He has been teaching his disciples in public.
- I think this pedagogy is directly related to the way the disciples are supposed to “let [their] light shine before people” (5:16). Jesus does occasionally teach his disciples privately, away from the public eye. But this most famous discourse is done before “the crowds.”
- This community of learners is also a community of prophets—for in the same way, they will be harassed for righteousness’ sake, as were the prophets of old (5:10-12).
- “The crowds” is an interesting word. Why not just singular, “the crowd?” Most scholars think the plural version implies a disorganized, factionalized group of people. John’s gospel calls them “sheep without a shepherd.” This also makes it stand out that the community of disciples Jesus has formed around himself is a contrast to the way the world practices social relationships.
- The crowds are amazed because of the authority with which Jesus speaks. Remember, he had a whole section where he said, “You have heard it said_______, but I say to you_______” Like today, many religious folks would be shocked and offended at such language. “I know the Bible says _______, but I’m telling you _______.” The more traditional and humble way to teach was (and is) to cite your sources, and to acknowledge opposing views: Rabbi Hillel says _______, but Rabbi Shimei says _______.
- So much of what passes for religious truth is cliché and conventional wisdom. Jesus’s words turn conventional wisdom on its head (“happy are the hopeless”) and express a truth that speaks to our souls. See, there is a place inside of us, where God has always lived, that resonates with truth that comes from God. It vibrates at the same frequency. We feel it in our bones. Many religious leaders, wolves in sheep’s clothing, tell us to mistrust that intuitive, ancient wisdom. But it resonates in harmony with what Jesus says.
- From my perspective, Christians who affirm LGBTQIA folks (like myself) do so with a variety of faithful readings and interpretations of scripture. I believe in digging in and wrestling with the Bible and acknowledging the multiple ways it can be read. But I also believe Jesus gives us this precedent: “I know you’ve heard it said that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that Paul said a wife should submit to her husband; but I’m telling you that a genderless God who liberates the oppressed, and in whose image we are made regardless of our gender, is far more concerned with equity and justice in our relationships than with how our genitals fit together.”
- If Jesus were to return and say these words, I would not be the tiniest bit shocked. But I bet there’d be folks ready to crucify him.
Holy Week Prayer:
Author of truth, set me free.
Author of truth, set us free.