To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship, and is considered as such by many religious and moral thinkers—such as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and it has been one of the main sources of Christian pacifism.
It can be divided into 5 sections as contained in the Gospel of Mathew in Chapters 5,6 and 7.
The Sermon on the Mount
The contents of the sermon are as follows:
Beatitudes - Teachings that begin with "blessed." These were meant to comfort suffering believers.
New laws - Contrasts the old law of Moses with the new law of Christ. A brief summary of Christian doctrine.
Lord's prayer - Instructions on prayer. Jesus also teaches the proper motives for fasting and offering gifts.
Money - Christian attitudes concerning the use of money. Reasons to avoid worry.
Warnings - Dangers of false teachers and hypocrisy. Jesus also presents the parable of the wise and foolish builders.
Last Sunday the Gospel was about the the Beatitudes which can be considered as the new commandments of Jesus to us. It is one of my favourite passages in the Gospel and I would like to share my thoughts and reflections.
Very often we do a lot of things praise God but have we paused to think whether it is what Jesus wanted us to do? When things are going right for us, we may think God is blessing us, but in real fact is He? On the contrary when things are not going the way we wanted, we may think He is not blessing us but is He? The answers to these questions are in the Beatitudes in which Jesus comforts those who suffer to keep to his teachings, saying those who are in pain to follow Him are the ones who are really blessed.
Part I - The Beatitudes (Mathew 5: 1-12)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In this teaching Jesus apart from the poor, the gentle, the merciful, peacemakers and those in sorrow who he said are blessed, he seem to emphasise another factor that has become very important these days - the fight for righteousness. He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” and “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
He was crystal clear that we must strive to be righteous which is to be morally upright in what we say and do and unwavering in our fight for righteousness. He says we must even be prepared to be persecuted for being upright and defending those who are righteous. These are very strong messages which very few dare to follow. Instead, limited by our human weaknesses, we tend to take the easy way out to please God – pray, fast and observe certain rituals.
In our society today the main problem is being morally upright and it has become a big challenge to be righteous. In the pursuit of wealth, success and comforts in life we seem to have compromised on being righteous. Corruption, both moral and material, is becoming a way of life where injustice to the ordinary man is not seen as wrong.
If we look around we will realise that there are five categories of people in our society today.
1. The leaders. The rich and powerful who want to have their ways always. They bulldoze their views with little or no consideration for the less fortunate majority who are righteous but without wealth, power or influence. There is a lot of frustration among this latter group who are helpless and continue to suffer in silence. Those in positions of power have little consideration for the righteous who they see as threats to their well being and opulent living.
2. Cohorts of the leader. These are those who are ardent supporters of those in power. These people are the “yes-men” who will do anything for their leader to keep him in power for their own benefits. Even the most evil deeds of the leader will be justified and aggressively defended by them. We are all too familiar with such people in our midst.
3. The fence-sitters (opportunists).These there are those who standby idle whenever there is injustice for fear of being victimised. They are the fence-sitters who follow the tide to be on the side of the winner. They continue to support the aggressor just to reap benefits, least bothered about those who are denied their legitimate rights. They will only be quick to desert the leader once they see his imminent fall from power.
4. Silent majority. This comprise of mainly good and peace-loving people who are busy coping with the struggles in life to take care of themselves and their families. They are not interested or have no time for what is happening around them. They abhor corruption and injustice but not willing to do anything as their hands are full. In any society it is this silent majority that determine the direction of their organisation or nation. Most of us belong to this category and it our voting power that determine our destiny. Our righteousness will determine the well being of our society. Often it is the greed in us that is the cause of all the problems we face in our society and country.
5. The righteous. The truly righteous are the few who stand up for truth and justice at all costs. Despite their righteousness they are crushed by those in positions of power, might and influence. All sorts of false scandals are propagated against them to make them look bad in the eyes of the people, the silent majority. They are regarded as rebellious, evil and even dangerous to the well being of others. They are silenced with the abuse of the very laws that are meant to protect their rights to speak up and reveal the truth.
This last group is where Jesus belongs and so do many great men and women of the past.It is where we all must strive to be but it is the most difficult.We may not be able to equal Jesus or the great people but we can try to be righteous like them in our own little ways in our own little environment which offers a lot opportunities to do so.
Breach of justice and rule of law and abuse of power is ongoing at all levels of our society today; in the family, schools, places of work, in the government institutions and the country in general. Regrettably it is also becoming rampant in charitable organisations that are established to help the poor, needy and disabled and worse still even in religious institutions, including our own church, which preaches justice, love and compassion to all mankind.
The sermon on the mount is directed at each one of us who claim to be His followers, that we must hunger and thirst for righteousness and in the process to stand up for justice wherever and whenever it is breached and whoever the perpetrator may be. In doing so we may be ‘persecuted’ by those in power but that should not deter us from continuing to do so as then as Jesus promised ours will be the Kingdom of Heaven.
Many of us today have got the wrong concept of heaven. We are made to believe that we can go to heaven if we strictly observe certain rituals, pray, fast and abstain, meditate, go on pilgrimages and give a little alms during Lent and so on. These may be good deeds that we practiced before but are not relevant anymore.
On the contrary Jesus has given us new criteria for entry into His Kingdom in the form of the Beatitudes. According Him only the poor in spirit, those who mourn for others, the gentle, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and those who are persecuted and insulted for the sake of righteousness will be blessed and rewarded.
The Beatitudes is the supreme commandment of Jesus and it is time for us to reflect to what extent we adhere to it in our own lives. It is not easy to follow what He taught us in the Beatitudes as doing so we will be treading an ardours and dreadful path. Let us reflect on whether we are willing to face the challenges which come our way if we follow that path or avoid facing them altogether for fear of repercussions.
Injustice is everywhere and in our own little ways fight it wherever and whenever we come across it in our own lives. Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers that may come our way in fighting injustice but pray for courage to be fearless when facing them.
Part II – the New Laws