Preaching “On the Mount” — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Preaching “On the Mount”

The Sermon on the Mount

Preaching “On the Mount”
Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Popular religious scholar and friend Diana Butler Bass shares how Jesus’ teaching “on the mount” placed him in the lineage of Moses and other revered Jewish prophets. Jesus builds on his own Jewish tradition to call his hearers to transformative living. She writes:

This section [Matthew 5–7] opens with Jesus going “up the mountain,” a deliberate choice that ancient Jewish Christians would have recognized as aligning Moses and Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount opens with blessings—on the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger—in the same way that Moses pronounces blessings on the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of milk and honey in Deuteronomy 28. . . .

Jesus’s first hearers would have understood what he was doing. Jesus was restating the written Torah, the passed-down law of Moses, in the words of his own “oral Torah,” a practice common in Judaism. In Matthew, Jesus places himself in the line of authoritative voices in the Hebrew tradition. Although this was done throughout the history of Israel by teachers, scribes, and prophets, including the most revered leaders, when Jesus claimed to join the ranks of these teachers, it was a pretty gutsy thing to do. . . .

Near the end of the sermon, Jesus states the Golden Rule, the foundation of all the commandments: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and prophets” (7:12). . . . The crowds got it—Jesus the rabbi was at work renewing and reinterpreting the law and, in the process, claiming the divine authority to do so: a teacher and a prophet. . . .

Jesus does not replace. Jesus reimagines and expands, inviting an alternative and often innovative reading of Jewish tradition. [1]

The German preacher and religious reformer Eberhard Arnold (1883–1935) believed that the people who heard Jesus’ message—both in his own time as well as ours—were obligated to act on the ancient call of God to live the Great Commandment, not simply listen to it.

It is incredible dishonesty in the human heart to pray daily that this kingdom should come, that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, and at the same time to deny that Jesus wants this kingdom to be put into practice on earth. Whoever asks for the rulership of God to come down on earth must believe in it and be wholeheartedly resolved to carry it out. Those who emphasize that the Sermon on the Mount is impractical and weaken its moral obligations should remember the concluding words, “Not all who say ‘Lord’ to me shall reach the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” [Matthew 7:21]. [2]

[1] Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (HarperOne: 2021), 39, 40, 41.

[2] Eberhard Arnold, Salt and Light: Living the Sermon on the Mount, 4th ed. (Plough Publishing House: 1998), 135.

Story from Our Community:
Living in liminal space has made more and more sense to me over the years. It reminds me that my actions matter. If I love God with all my strength, love my neighbor as myself, and practice the beatitudes as best I can, everything else falls in place. While I am not capable of doing all of the above perfectly, I do get better over time by having a focus on my actions. —Allan Y.

Image credit: Oliver, Street Piano (detail), 2010, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Image inspiration: A public piano is for everyone. The sound of the notes is a gift, made by ordinary people, rippling outward toward passersby. The beauty of shared music is present, whether or not the people who hear it respond.
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