Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What do you do with the Sermon on the Mount?

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Commentary: These words of Jesus can make us feel that we never measure up. To forgive an enemy is one of the most difficult things to do in life. Bitterness is understandable when we have been badly and unjustly treated. Christian preaching can force forgiveness too readily. All we know is that the more we can forgive, the freer we become. The example of Jesus' love and forgiveness on the cross can help us make small steps on the way of forgiveness in our lives. Sometimes the realisation that God loves each of us can help us look on others with love or tolerance or compassion.

-from Sacred Space, prayer for 16th June
One of my friends really struggles with the "Be perfect" injunction. And looking at it in the context of the three chapters that make up the Sermon on the Mount doesn't really help (she refers to it as "three chapters of impossible things before breakfast").

I told her that I read it as Jesus saying, "The Pharisees tell you to keep all the laws and commandments, and they act like they're so great because they keep all of those themselves, but I'll let you in on a secret -- I AM's supreme commandment of Love goes way beyond their narrow scope, and no one, not even the Pharisees, has mastered living that fully, but the Divine Parent loves each and every one of you so much that She wants you to love yourselves and each other just as much as She loves you, and her grace is sufficient to make up the difference every time you try and fall short, just keep trying."

Though I also recognize that I'm importing a lot from elsewhere in the Scriptures to that reading.

I later commented: "Jesus hung around a lot of supremely imperfect people, and he didn't usually seem very concerned with telling them to be perfect. I think God desires us all to live into the fullness of the persons we were created to be, but I also think God has a limitless supply of grace and mercy which She freely pours out on us over and over again."


I reread Mathew 5-7, and it is HARD. Lots of, "You thought these were the rules, but actually the rules are even more demanding than you thought. And you can't enter heaven unless you keep them all perfectly." There is no "you are saved by grace" in these three chapters. There is a lot of heaven and hell. I do kind of snerk at the, "Just because you call me Lord, if you don't do good things then I don't know you," but saved-by-works is really problematic (not to mention untenable -- who manages to never insult anyone or lust after anyone or etc.?).

I mean, here Jesus makes Paul look like the grace-filled non-rule-bound guy -- "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).

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