Dietrich Bonehoeffer: “Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it. … He does not mean that it is to be discussed as an ideal, he really means us to get on with it.”
Jesus saw the crowds who were there. He went up on a hill and sat down. His followers came to him. Jesus taught the people and said:
“Those people who know they have great spiritual needs are happy.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Those who are sad now are happy.
God will comfort them.
Those who are humble are happy.
The earth will belong to them.
Those who want to do right more than anything else are happy.
God will fully satisfy them.
Those who give mercy to others are happy.
Mercy will be given to them.
Those who are pure in their thinking are happy.
They will be with God.
Those who work to bring peace are happy.
God will call them his sons.
Those who are treated badly for doing good are happy.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Barbara Brown Taylor: I am so sorry to tell you this, but Jesus was just not a very good Protestant. He was a Jew, for whom good works were not optional. He was the loving son of the Light-Giver who gave the law, and he expected those who followed him to follow it too, right down to the last jot and tittle. Later Paul would mount some good arguments about how the law was God’s grace for Jews, while God had something different in mind for Gentiles. But however our view of the law has changed through the years, our spiritual ancestors had the good sense to preserve this core teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: God expects us to step up. Righteousness is a good thing. Exceeding righteousness is even better. Knowing God’s word is no substitute for doing it.
People will say bad things about you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do these things to you, you are happy. Rejoice and be glad. You have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. People did the same evil things to the prophets who lived before you.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its salty taste, it cannot be made salty again. It is good for nothing. It must be thrown out for people to walk on.
You are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden. And people don’t hide a light under a bowl. They put the light on a lampstand. Then the light shines for all the people in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do. Live so that they will praise your Father in heaven.
Don’t think that I have come to destroy the law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have not come to destroy their teachings but to do what they said. I tell you the truth. Nothing will disappear from the law until heaven and earth are gone. The law will not lose even the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter until all has happened. Whoever refuses to obey any command and teaches other people not to obey that command will be the least important in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys the law and teaches other people to obey the law will be great in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you that you must do better than the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. If you are not better than they are, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Oscar Romero: This is the mission entrusted to the church, a difficult mission: to uproot sins from history, to uproot sins from politics, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot sins from wherever they are. What a difficult task! The church has to confront conflicts caused by great selfishness, great pride, and great vanity because so many people have enthroned the kingdom of sin among us. The church must suffer for speaking the truth, for denouncing sin, and for uprooting sin. No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores reacts strongly when someone has the courage to touch the sore and say: “You have to treat that. You have to eliminate that. Believe in Christ and be converted.
Matthew 5:21-37: You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’ But I tell you, if you are angry with your brother, you will be judged. And if you say bad things to your brother, you will be judged by the Jewish council. And if you call your brother a fool, then you will be in danger of the fire of hell.
So when you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with him. Then come and offer your gift.
If your enemy is taking you to court, become friends with him quickly. You should do that before you go to court. If you don’t become his friend, he might turn you over to the judge. And the judge might give you to a guard to put you in jail. I tell you that you will not leave that jail until you have paid everything you owe.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You must not be guilty of adultery.’ But I tell you that if anyone looks at a woman with lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his mind. If your right eye causes you to sin, then take it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, then cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
It was also said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a written divorce paper.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife is causing his wife to be guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if she has been unfaithful to him. And anyone who marries that divorced woman is guilty of adultery.
You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘When you make a promise, don’t break your promise. Keep the promises that you make to the Lord.’ But I tell you, never make an oath. Don’t make an oath using the name of heaven, because heaven is God’s throne. Don’t make an oath using the name of the earth, because the earth belongs to God. Don’t make an oath using the name of Jerusalem, because that is the city of the great King. And don’t even say that your own head is proof that you will keep your oath. You cannot make one hair on your head become white or black. Say only ‘yes’ if you mean ‘yes,’ and say only ‘no’ if you mean ‘no.’ If you must say more than ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it is from the Evil One.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Matthew 5:38-48: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, then turn and let him slap the other cheek too. If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, then let him have your coat too. If a soldier forces you to go with him one mile, then go with him two miles. If a person asks you for something, then give it to him. Don’t refuse to give to a person who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, then you will be true sons of your Father in heaven. Your Father causes the sun to rise on good people and on bad people. Your Father sends rain to those who do good and to those who do wrong. If you love only the people who love you, then you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, then you are no better than other people. Even people without God are nice to their friends. So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
E. Stanley Jones: There is a “beyondness” in the Sermon on the Mount that startles and appalls the legalistic mind. It sees no limit to duty – the first mile does not suffice, he will go two; the coat is not enough, he will give the cloak also; to love friends is not enough, he will love enemies as well. Come to that with the legalistic mind and it is impossible and absurd; come to it with the mind of the lover and nothing else is possible. The lover’s attitude is not one of duty, but one of privilege. Here is the key to the Sermon on the Mount. We mistake it entirely if we look on it as the chart of the Christian’s duty; rather, it is the charter of the Christian’s liberty – his liberty to go beyond, to do the thing that love impels and not merely the thing that duty compels.
Matthew 6:1-13: Be careful! When you do good things, don’t do them in front of people to be seen by them. If you do that, then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
When you give to the poor, don’t be like the hypocrites. They blow trumpets before they give so that people will see them. They do that in the synagogues and on the streets. They want other people to honor them. I tell you the truth. Those hypocrites already have their full reward. So when you give to the poor, give very secretly. Don’t let anyone know what you are doing. Your giving should be done in secret. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.
When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray loudly. They want people to see them pray. I tell you the truth. They already have their full reward. When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door. Then pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.
And when you pray, don’t be like those people who don’t know God. They continue saying things that mean nothing. They think that God will hear them because of the many things they say. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. So when you pray, you should pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
we pray that your name will always be kept holy.
We pray that your kingdom will come.
We pray that what you want will be done,
here on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us the food we need for each day.
Forgive the sins we have done,
just as we have forgiven those who did wrong to us.
And do not cause us to be tested;
but save us from the Evil One.’
Yes, if you forgive others for the things they do wrong, then your Father in heaven will also forgive you for the things you do wrong. But if you don’t forgive the wrongs of others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrong things you do.
Leonardo Boff: The need for bread is an individual matter, but the satisfaction of that need cannot be an individual effort; it must be that of a community. Thus we do not pray “my Father,” but “our Father.” … This bread that is jointly produced must be distributed and consumed in concert with others. Only then can we truthfully ask for our daily bread. God does not hear the prayer that asks only for my bread. A genuine relationship with God calls for maintaining a relationship with others. When we present God with our own needs, he wants us to include those of our brothers and sisters. Otherwise the bonds of fellowship are severed and we live only for ourselves. We all share the same basic necessity; collective satisfaction of that need makes us brothers and sisters.
Matthew 6:16-23: When you give up eating, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They make their faces look strange to show people that they are giving up eating. I tell you the truth, those hypocrites already have their full reward. So when you give up eating, comb your hair and wash your face. Then people will not know that you are giving up eating. But your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you. Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you.
Don’t store treasures for yourselves here on earth. Moths and rust will destroy treasures here on earth. And thieves can break into your house and steal the things you have. So store your treasure in heaven. The treasures in heaven cannot be destroyed by moths or rust. And thieves cannot break in and steal that treasure. Your heart will be where your treasure is.
The eye is a light for the body. If your eyes are good, then your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are evil, then your whole body will be full of darkness. And if the only light you have is really darkness, then you have the worst darkness.
Eberhard Arnold: Prayer must never supplant work. If we sincerely ask God for his will to be done, for his nature to be revealed in our work, for his rule to bring humankind to unity, justice, and love, then our life will be one of work. Faith without works is dead. Prayer without work is hypocrisy. Unless we actively work to build for God’s kingdom, the Lord’s Prayer – “Your kingdom come” – is a lie on our lips. The purpose of Jesus’ prayer is to bring us to the point where its meaning is lived out, where it actually happens and becomes part of history. Each of us needs to find a way to devote our whole working strength so that God is honored, his will is done, and his kingdom comes.
“No one can be a slave to two masters. He will hate one master and love the other. Or he will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. So you cannot serve God and money at the same time.
So I tell you, don’t worry about the food you need to live. And don’t worry about the clothes you need for your body. Life is more important than food. And the body is more important than clothes. Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns. But your heavenly Father feeds the birds. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds. You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it.
And why do you worry about clothes? Look at the flowers in the field. See how they grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers. God clothes the grass in the field like that. The grass is living today, but tomorrow it is thrown into the fire to be burned. So you can be even more sure that God will clothe you. Don’t have so little faith! Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ All the people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things. And your Father in heaven knows that you need them. The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Tomorrow will have its own worries.
Teresa of Avila: Who can say that he possesses any virtue, or that he is rich, if at the time when he most needs this virtue he finds himself devoid of it? No, let us rather think of ourselves as lacking it and not run into debt without having the means of repayment. Our treasure must come from elsewhere and we never know when God will leave us in this prison of our misery without giving us any. If others, thinking we are good, bestow favors and honors upon us, both they and we shall look foolish when, as I say, it becomes clear that our virtues are only lent us. The truth is that, if we serve the Lord with humility, he will sooner or later succor us in our needs. But, if we are not strong in this virtue, the Lord will leave us to ourselves, as they say, at every step. This is a great favor on his part, for it helps us to realize fully that we have nothing which has not been given us.
Don’t judge other people, and you will not be judged. You will be judged in the same way that you judge others. And the forgiveness you give to others will be given to you.
Why do you notice the little piece of dust that is in your brother’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood that is in your own eye? Why do you say to your brother, ‘Let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye’? Look at yourself first! You still have that big piece of wood in your own eye. You are a hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly enough to take the dust out of your brother’s eye.
Don’t give holy things to dogs. Don’t throw your pearls before pigs. Pigs will only trample on them. And the dogs will only turn to attack you.
Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. Yes, everyone who continues asking will receive. He who continues searching will find. And he who continues knocking will have the door opened for him.
What would you do if your son asks for bread? Which of you would give him a stone? Or if your son asks for a fish, would you give him a snake? Even though you are bad, you know how to give good gifts to your children. So surely your heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him.
Do for other people the same things you want them to do for you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.
CS Lewis: The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, “live for others” but always in a discontented, grumbling way – always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.”
Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. The road that leads to hell is a very easy road. And the gate to hell is very wide. Many people enter through that gate. But the gate that opens the way to true life is very small. And the road to true life is very hard. Only a few people find that road.
Hermas: Sir, these commandments are great and good and glorious, and are able to gladden the heart of the one who is able to keep them. But I do not know if these commandments can be kept by a human, for they are very hard.
“Those who have the Lord in their heart,” he said, “can master everything, including all these commandments. But to those who have the Lord on their lips but whose heart is hardened and who are far from the Lord, these commandments are hard and difficult. You, therefore, who are empty and fickle in the faith, put the Lord in your heart and you will realize that nothing is easier or sweeter or more gentle than these commandments.”
Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
May God grant you the vision, strength, and courage
to proclaim God’s message of peace
whether welcome or unwelcome,
for the sake of God’s beloved children.
May almighty God bless you,
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.