Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” is, in my estimation, the most intriguing and fascinating of texts. I’ll leave aside the dicey issue of the historicity of the “Sermon” and simply address its significance for modern Christians, pilgrims in this world, passing through to the next, and struggling both to make it through and make a difference.
And that, in my estimation, is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: both making it through this life as a disciple of the Risen Lord and leaving the world, when death claims us, a bit of a better place.
The ethic of the Sermon is the ethic of love for God bound together with love for one another. “You have heard it said… but I say to you”; “Blessed are the pure in heart”; “But I say to you, do not be angry…”; “Do not condemn…”; “Our Father, in heaven…”. These, and so many of the other segments of the Sermon, urge us, as His disciples, on to a better sort of life than what we normally settle for.
The Sermon, after all, is a challenge to be different; to act differently and think differently and live differently than the world acts and thinks and lives. If we believers, we folk who call ourselves His people, took the Sermon to heart, the world really would be a better, different place. Better because different. And different because better. This is, after all, not the best of all possible worlds. The world where the Sermon on the Mount is practiced by all the people of God is.
Perhaps, then, Lent is the perfect time to evaluate our own willingness to adhere to this Sermon, putatively spoken on a Mountain. Which, if lived, would raise the low places to the heights.
Dr. Jim West is the pastor of Petros Baptist Church and a biblioblogger extraordinaire. He blogs at http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/ and runs the Biblical Studies Resources website. Regular topics of conversation on his blog include developments in biblical scholarship, scandals within the Church, the superiority of all things Swiss (especially Zwingli), and the evil that is Chris Tilling.