Theologians Reflect on the Sermon on the Mount

Posted by colin on March 2, 2013 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

The following excerpts are the reflections of a few theologians on the significance of the Sermon on the Mount. They bring home to us the reality that we can only live the Sermon on the Mount if we have Christ living in us.

Is this, then, a counsel of despair? Does Jesus require more than anyone can perform, yet pronounce doom on all who fail? If we regard the sermon as only law (albeit a new law from a new mountain), the answer has to be, Yes. In that sense, however, every law is a counsel of despair. That is, every law demands of us more than we can understand or perform, yet by itself can neither make us over into better persons nor forgive us when we go wrong. This very predicament, however, and supremely the predicament of the Sermon on the Mount, is the starting point of Christianity. The Sermon offers a vast new realization of God’s will for man. When I measure myself beside it, I do always fall short. But what I cannot accomplish, God can! (cf. Matt. 19:25-26). Through Christ God intervenes to transform this human life, and to bring to humanity the awareness of his forgiveness. Nor is that mere theory or idle speculation. Generations of men, women and children have found in their own experience that Christ does bring with him a nobility of life and a gladness they had not otherwise known.” (Pierson Parker, Good News in Matthew, pg 57).

The Sermon on the Mount ends with a call to action. It is not enough to recognize Jesus as a new Moses or to acknowledge his teaching as a new Torah. The challenge is to respond to the words of the Messiah by walking the high and difficult road that he marks out for us. In essence, it is a summons to live as Jesus lived. … Should discouragement weigh us down along the way, let us remember that what Jesus demands of us he enables us to do. Apart from the grace he offers, this new way of living is unattainable – an ethical ideal that could never become real in the lives of his disciples.” (Curtis Mitch; “The Gospel of Matthew,” pg 122f).

The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to suffer injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before us, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road will increase our certainty. The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pg 190f).


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