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Theme:
The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Week Twenty-Nine Summary and Practice

Sunday, July 18—Friday, July 23, 2021

Sunday
We must be honest and admit that most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing: healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.

Monday
In the Sermon on the Plain, I think Jesus is describing what the world would look like if people really followed him. He’s giving us an upside-down version of reality that turns middle-class morality on its head.

Tuesday
Jesus does not replace. Jesus reimagines and expands, inviting an alternative and often innovative reading of Jewish tradition. —Diana Butler Bass

Wednesday
When I understand Jesus’ words in Aramaic, I translate like this: “Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.” —Elias Chacour

Thursday
Jesus commands us to love our enemies not just because it’s right; not just because it’s moral; and not just because it’s the only practical solution; but because God loves God’s enemies. That’s the very nature of God, he explains. —John Dear

Friday
The awareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the ego and results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power. I have seen it happen again and again. —Howard Thurman

 

Finding the Source of Comfort

Earlier this week, we shared a meditation from Megan McKenna on the importance of translation. Scholar and author Neil Douglas-Klotz has worked for decades with the Aramaic language, which Jesus most likely spoke as a first-century Jewish man from Nazareth. Because translation is never an exact science, Dr. Douglas-Klotz offers several possible understandings of Jesus’ teaching “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love.

Healthy are those weak and overextended for their purpose; they shall feel their inner flow of strength return.

Healed are those who weep for their frustrated desire; they shall see the face of fulfillment in a new form.

Aligned with the One are the mourners; they shall be comforted.

Turned to the Source are those feeling deeply confused by life; they shall be returned from their wandering.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz continues:

Lawile can mean “mourners” (as translated from the Greek), but in Aramaic it also carries the sense of those who long deeply for something to occur, those troubled or in emotional turmoil, or those who are weak and in want from such longing. Netbayun can mean “comforted,” but also connotes being returned from wandering, united inside by love, feeling an inner continuity, or seeing the arrival of (literally, the face of) what one longs for.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz offers this embodied prayer practice to help readers sense the powerful message of this beatitude.

When in emotional turmoil—or unable to clearly feel any emotion—experiment in this fashion: breathe in while feeling the word lawile (lay-wee-ley) [longing]; breathe out while feeling the word netbayun (net-bah-yoon) [loving]. Embrace all of what you feel and allow all emotions to wash through as though you were standing under a gentle waterfall. Follow this flow back to its source and find there the spring from which all emotion arises. At this source, consider what emotion has meaning for the moment, what action or nonaction is important now.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco: 1990), 50, 51, 52.

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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The Sermon on the Mount

Preaching to the Disinherited
Friday, July 23, 2021

Jesus’ primary audience for the Sermon on the Mount would have been the “disinherited,” to use the term from the African American author and mystic Howard Thurman (1899–1981). So much of Jesus’ teaching was meant to allay the fear and despair of his own marginalized and oppressed Jewish audience; it is no wonder it has also served as a powerful statement of solidarity with all those who suffer. Thurman writes:

The disinherited experience the disintegrating effect of contempt. . . . There are few things more devastating than to have it burned into you that you do not count and that no provisions are made for the literal protection of your person. The threat of violence is ever present, and there is no way to determine precisely when it may come crushing down upon you. In modern power politics this is called a war of nerves. The underprivileged in any society are the victims of a perpetual war of nerves. The logic of the state of affairs is physical violence, but it need not fulfill itself in order to work its perfect havoc in the souls of the poor. . . .

In the great expression of affirmation and faith found in the Sermon on the Mount there appears in clearest outline the basis of [Jesus’] positive answer to the awful fact of fear and its twin sons of thunder—anxiety and despair. . . .

[Thurman then quotes Matthew 6:25–34, and continues:]

The core of the analysis of Jesus is that the human is a child of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself. Jesus suggests that it is quite unreasonable to assume that God, whose creative activity is expressed even in such details as the hairs of a person’s head, would exclude from God’s concern the life, the vital spirit, of the person’s own self. This idea—that God is mindful of the individual—is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease. In this world the socially disadvantaged individual is constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: “Who am I? What am I?”

The first question has to do with a basic self-estimate, a profound sense of belonging, of counting. If people feel that they do not belong in the way in which it is perfectly normal for other people to belong, then they develop a deep sense of insecurity. When this happens to a person, it provides the basic material for what the psychologist calls an inferiority complex. . . . The awareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the ego and results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power. I have seen it happen again and again.

Richard here: Knowing our true identity as sons and daughters of God can save us thousands of dollars in psychotherapy. Knowing that everyone else is a child of God—and treating them as such—can save the world!

Reference:
Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Friends United Press: 1981), 39–40, 48, 49–50. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Story from Our Community:
Thank you for these meditations. I came across the agricultural term “re-wilding”—to give back areas of low-grade land to nature to rest, restore, and regain. I love that term! I wonder if we, as a community, are being asked by God to “re-wild”—to go back to our origins of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus. —Helen R.

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.
Read Full Entry

The Sermon on the Mount

The Commandment for Peace
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene

My good friend, the life-long peacemaker John Dear, has recently founded The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus. Today he expounds on Jesus’ surprising commandment to “love your enemies,” calling it “the climax of the Sermon on the Mount.” John writes:

We have this revolutionary commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your countrymen and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your heavenly God. . . .” (Matthew 5:43–45).

These are the most radical, political, and revolutionary words ever uttered. They fulfill the vision of nonviolence, of work for justice and disarmament, of universal compassion and unconditional forgiveness, and of trust in the God of peace. Few discuss this commandment, but I believe it sums up Christianity. But we’ve done our best to avoid and disobey it.

Why? Because the command to love our enemies goes against everything every nation in the world commands. . . . We ignore this commandment because we do not want to get in trouble for opposing our nation. We are afraid of the consequences. If we love our enemies, perhaps they will think we are naïve and vulnerable and attack us, and if we do not prepare a counterattack, then we fear we will surely be killed. So we go on preparing to kill our enemies. We disobey Jesus, don’t believe God will protect us, obey our nation/state, and continue the ever-descending global spiral into war. [Richard here: John is never one to mince words. Like St. Paul, he places us on the knife’s edge of a dilemma and encourages us to wrestle with it until we know what is ours to do.]

In this one climactic sentence, Jesus reverses the entire nation/state system. He invites us not to hate, punish, or kill anyone, especially those targeted by our nation/state. . . . It is not enough for us not to kill; we have to stop our country from killing others. He wants us, then, to reach beyond our borders to embrace everyone as a sister and brother, to make sure they have the fullness of life and love, to live in peace with everyone. [Jesus] calls us to universal, nonviolent love. . . . [Richard again: This is much of Pope Francis’ message in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.]

Jesus commands us to love our enemies not just because it’s right; not just because it’s moral; and not just because it’s the only practical solution; but because God loves God’s enemies. That’s the very nature of God, he explains. Jesus wants us to be “sons and daughters of your God in heaven, for God makes God’s sun rise on the bad and on the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust” [Matthew 5:45]. God practices universal, nonviolent love, and as sons and daughters of this God, we—everyone—must do the same.

Reference:
John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 129–130, 131.

Story from Our Community:
Thank you for these meditations. I came across the agricultural term “re-wilding”—to give back areas of low-grade land to nature to rest, restore, and regain. I love that term! I wonder if we, as a community, are being asked by God to “re-wild”—to go back to our origins of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus. —Helen R.

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.
Read Full Entry

The Sermon on the Mount

Go Ahead, Do Something
Wednesday, July 21, 2021

My fellow Albuquerque resident Megan McKenna is an author, storyteller, and theologian who challenges us to imitate Jesus. She writes of the importance of translation when it comes to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words:

The blessings and woes have so much depth and latitude, so many layers of meaning that are unveiled throughout the gospel of Luke, especially in the parables. Even the meaning of the word beatitude is rich and complex when seen from different perspectives. . . . [In Elias Chacour’s book We Belong to the Land] there is a marvelous description of a beatitude that enhances our understanding of what Jesus means when he says “blessed are you.”

Knowing Aramaic, the language of Jesus, has greatly enriched my understanding of Jesus’ teaching. Because the Bible as we know it is a translation of a translation, we sometimes get a wrong impression. For example, we are accustomed to hearing the Beatitudes expressed passively:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

“Blessed” is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament. However, when I look further back to Jesus’ Aramaic, I find that the original word was ashray, from the verb yashar. Ashray does not have this passive quality to it at all. Instead, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.”. . .

How could I go to a persecuted young man in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance, and say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? That man would revile me, saying neither I nor my God understood his plight and he would be right.

When I understand Jesus’ words in Aramaic, I translate like this:

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied.

Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.

To me this reflects Jesus’ words and teachings much more accurately. I can hear him saying: “Get your hands dirty to build a human society for human beings; otherwise, others will torture and murder the poor, the voiceless, and the powerless.” Christianity is not passive but active, energetic, alive, going beyond despair. . . .

“Get up, go ahead, do something, move,” Jesus said to his disciples. [1]

Megan McKenna concludes:

The beatitudes mean deeper mercy for those who experience more divisive misery, deeper blessings for those whose hope is dimmest. They give an ultimate authority to certain people and their plight in the world. They signify not just a religious attitude, but a social attitude toward realities that should not exist among humans.

References:
[1] Elias Chacour with Mary E. Jensen, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation (HarperSanFrancisco: 1990), 143, 144.

Megan McKenna, Blessings and Woes: The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke (Orbis Books: 1999), 22–23.

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.
Read Full Entry

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]

References:
[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.
Read Full Entry

The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Upside-Down World
Monday, July 19, 2021

What is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:1–7:29) is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:20–49). What we call in Matthew the Eight Beatitudes, we call in Luke the Blessings and Woes (four of each). Today we will look at the four blessings.

Blessed are you who are poor, for the reign of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One. (Luke 6:20–22)

In this chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has just chosen his twelve disciples on the mountain. These are the very first words recorded that he says to them and to the great crowd that gathered, so they must be important. I think he’s describing what the world would look like if people really followed him. He’s giving us an upside-down version of reality that turns middle-class morality on its head.

Blessed are you who are poor.

What a strange thing to say! Does anyone really think today that the poor are blessed? I don’t think so. Most of us are enthralled by capitalism and think it is the rich who are blessed. We have even turned the Gospel into a “prosperity” message—that if we have enough faith, God rewards us with financial success. That sure doesn’t sound like what Jesus is saying here! Scholars teach that Luke was talking to a poor community, and so in this passage Jesus is affirming the poor directly. He doesn’t soften things like Matthew does for his more well-off community by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Blessed are you who are now hungry.

Jesus seems to be teaching that we need to choose at least a bit of dissatisfaction—which is the human situation anyway—so that we long for God. God alone is the One who will finally satisfy us.

Blessed are you who weep now.

Weeping doesn’t sound like a very positive thing, but people who have gone through major grief often tend to be more compassionate, more forgiving and understanding. Somehow, grief softens the heart.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Human One.

Talk about an upside-down universe! I’m not happy when people hate me—and some people do hate me. Jesus is saying that we have to find our happiness somewhere other than in people’s opinions about us. If we don’t, it’s just up and down, constantly assessing, who likes me today? If we want to build our life on a solid foundation, we need to base it on God who loves us unconditionally, constantly, and without exception. Then we don’t go up and down. We know who we are now and forever.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “What the World Would Look like If Jesus’ Worldview Was in Control,” homily, February 17, 2019.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve worked since age 8 or 9 to keep Christ’s Beatitudes central in my life. Life has been filled with one hill followed after another, and I’ve tried to help others in my community. In my 80s now I work to see Christ’s light in each face I meet and to make them laugh, whether in an in-person meeting or on the phone. —Darlene A.

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.
Read Full Entry

The Sermon on the Mount

An Alternative Way to Live
Sunday, July 18, 2021

I am told that the Sermon on the Mount—the essence of Jesus’ teaching—is the least quoted Scripture in official Catholic Church documents. We must be honest and admit that most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing: healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.

I’m grateful that my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Likewise, Francis’ followers, especially in the beginning, tried to imitate Francis. Like the Quakers, Shakers, Amish, Mennonites, and the Catholic Worker Movement, Franciscanism offers a simple return to the Gospel as an alternative lifestyle more than an orthodox belief system. The Sermon on the Mount was not just words for these groups! They focused on including the outsider, preferring the bottom to the top, a commitment to nonviolence, and choosing social poverty and divine union over any private perfection or sense of moral superiority.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount [1], Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words and live the teachings, instead of only believing things about God:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined (Matthew 7:24–27; my emphasis).

Dorothy Day (1897–1980), one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, understood the Sermon on the Mount as the foundational plan for following Jesus: “Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.” [2] She observed that “we are trying to lead a good life. We are trying to talk about and write about the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the social principles of the church, and it is most astounding, the things that happen when you start trying to live this way. To perform the works of mercy becomes a dangerous practice.” [3]

That’s because Jesus was teaching an alternative wisdom that shakes the social order instead of upholding the conventional wisdom that maintains it. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not about preserving the status quo! It’s about living here on earth as if the Reign of God has already begun (see Luke 17:21). In this Reign, the Sermon tells us, the poor are blessed, the hungry are filled, the grieving are filled with joy, and enemies are loved.

References:
[1] What is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:1–7:29) is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:20–49).

[2] Dorothy Day, Selected Writings, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis: 2002), 262.

[3] Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Marquette University Press: 2010), 166.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation, (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve worked since age 8 or 9 to keep Christ’s Beatitudes central in my life. Life has been filled with one hill followed after another, and I’ve tried to help others in my community. In my 80s now I work to see Christ’s light in each face I meet and to make them laugh, whether in an in-person meeting or on the phone. —Darlene A.

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.
Read Full Entry
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