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principal Web, http://www.paulonpaul.org,
and thus that the As Paul Tells It . .
. designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate.
Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents,
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Contents of Jesus
The “Sermon” on the “Mount”
(Matthew 5 – 7)
This collection of Jesus’ sayings deservedly enjoys a
place of honor among Christians and others alike, for its extraordinary
religious perspective, its challenging—even radical—ethical demands, and
indeed for its eloquence, too. It in no sense diminishes its importance if
in the present discussion we call attention to a rather complicated history
behind the verses we now read in Matthew’s gospel. For reasons that will
become clear, the discourse could be called more accurately . . .
The [So-Called] Sermon on the [So-Called] Mount
remind ourselves that the sayings material in the synoptic gospels
circulated during the period of oral transmission in isolated units, rather
than in extended discourses; click on Separate
Units. The casual reader may have the impression that the sayings in
Matthew 5 – 7 constitute a single continuous discourse or sermon delivered
by Jesus on one occasion in a particular place. But more careful analysis
shows that the sayings before us went through several stages before
they finally emerged as we have them in the Gospel of Matthew:
The original sayings of Jesus
Oral Transmission of sayings
Sayings arranged in written sources
rated into the gospel
Sayings are spoken in various situations (in their
Sayings circulate orally without their original “frames” →→
Sayings are included in Q or Matthew’s special source →→
Matthew uses sayings from Q, from his special source, and from oral
sayings, together with his editorial additions; he provides
new “frames” for sayings
From this analysis, it will become clear that we
can restore very few if any of the original occasions or “frames” of the
sayings which Matthew has brought together in this discourse. Hence we can
use the phrase, “the so-called sermon on the so-called
mount,” because it is Matthew and not Jesus who has provided the sermon
frame for these sayings as we now have them; and it is Matthew and not Jesus who has
placed the discourse on a hill or mountain. Many of the sayings which
Matthew places on the hilltop are the same sayings which Luke (6:17-19,
places on a level place, or plain.
It has sometimes been suggested that Matthew
placed this first of five discourses on a hill to symbolize the giving of
a new Torah, analogous to Moses’ delivering Torah to Israel from Mount
Sinai; click on New Moses.
2. This arrangement is one clue, among others, that the
author of the Gospel of Matthew was thoroughly Jewish, and had a love/hate relationship with the synagogues of his day.
He was thoroughly committed to the Jewish Law/Torah and
its requirements, but spoke scathingly in his criticism
of the Pharisees,
the dominant religious party in the synagogue. The
author had both exclusivist
tendencies (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24) and universalist
tendencies (Matthew 28:19-20). He likely wrote for the benefit of a
Christian Jewish community, of which he would have been a part;
such a community might have been found in Antioch, or some other city of
the eastern Mediterranean world.
3. With elegant craftsmanship, the author of the first
gospel has woven together the sayings available to him into a masterful
discourse. He begins with a portrait of the Christian disciple, sketches
the relationship between a disciple and the world, and then contrasts the
teaching of Jesus with that of Judaism, so far as moral requirements are
concerned, and then compares the piety of the new with the piety of the
old. He concludes with a series of diverse teachings, for which no
thematic structure seems to have been available. Click on A Manual of Discipleship
for an overview of how this discourse is laid out.
A Portrait of the Disciple: Matthew 5:3-12
Here in the Beatitudes we find a composite picture of the ideal
disciple, for emulation. These blessings, or felicitations, also serve,
despite their brevity, to introduce themes which are more fully developed in
later parts of the discourse.
Blue = Q Green
= Special Matthew
|3Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
||20Blessed are you who
are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
||21bBlessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
|5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
|6Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness, for
they will be filled.
21aBlessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be
|7Blessed are the
merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called
children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
|11Blessed are you
when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely on my account.
||22Blessed are you
when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and
defame you on account of the Son of Man.
| 12Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you.
|| 23Rejoice in
that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven;
for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
glance at this text will show that Matthew has used a substantial amount
of Q material, which he has “enriched” with his special
material, whether written or oral, together with a quotation of Psalm 37:11,
and perhaps his own editorial material. We shall not try to settle whether
Matthew’s or Luke’s version of the beatitudes is more original, though
one suspects that Matthew may have spiritualized an original, “Blessed are you who
are poor,” with his “Blessed are the poor
in spirit;” and that Matthew
may have expanded an original, “Blessed are you who are hungry now,”
with his “Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness,”
especially since righteousness is a favorite term of Matthew,
appearing seven times in his gospel, and never on the lips of Jesus in
Mark or Luke. Nevertheless, a number of important insights emerge in
Matthew’s version, both for matters of spirituality and for ethical
1. Spirituality in the beatitudes.
• The discourse opens with the proclamation:
it is through a low gate that one enters the kingdom; access is
granted to the poor in spirit, or those who know their spiritual need (5:3).
• Consolation for mourners (5:4):
this is one approach to dealing with loss experiences, whether it is
bereavement, or loss of employment or property. This verse could also be
understood as promising forgiveness to those who mourn their sins.
• The reciprocal quality of mercy (5:7)
is a prominent theme in Matthew, whether in the Lord’s Prayer (6:12),
or the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (18:23-35), in which a
servant’s debt, amounting to some tens of millions of dollars, is
forgiven by the merciful king, but then a fellow servant’s debt of
perhaps a hundred dollars is not forgiven. (We shall not try to decide
whether this narrative is a tall tale, or whether because of its
improbable features it is to be reckoned among the allegories.)
• We find a remarkable condition required of the
disciple, purity of heart; and an even more remarkable promise, the
direct realization of God’s presence, knowing God first hand.
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the
pure in heart, for they will see God.
By way of explanation, heart is a typically Hebraic term, not
for the emotions, but for the thought processes, the mind or the will. So purity
of heart signifies not so much an empty-headed person, or the absence
of vice, but a more positive, and quite indispensable quality: concentration
of the mind upon a single goal or purpose, undistracted by conflicting
ideas or loyalties. Clearly, this singleness of mind or purpose is
indispensable for knowing God, as we shall discuss later at length.
• Another mark of the disciple is a high level
of commitment, even to the extent of enduring
persecution and abuse (Matthew 5:10-12). If this is a state of
blessedness, it is not because one enjoys suffering, but because one
suffers on account of one’s loyalty to Jesus, and thus is in good
company, the “noble fellowship of the prophets,” as the Te Deum has
2. Ethical conduct in the beatitudes.
• The disciple not only seeks after justice or
righteousness, as a hungry person seeks food, but actively pursues peace,
the condition for being part of God’s family:
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called
children of God.
In particular, a disciple seeks reconciliation,
and is willing to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, and love
one’s enemy as well as one’s neighbor, as we will discuss in detail
3. The rhetoric of paradox.
• Something noteworthy about Jesus seems to
emerge especially in these epigrammatic beatitudes, spoken with
succinctness and in a manner which shows delight in paradoxical
|The poor in spirit are possessors of a kingdom;|
|The meek inherit the earth;|
|The hungry are filled;|
|The persecuted rejoice and are blessed!|
It is evident that Jesus was continually challenging people to “think
outside the box,” as we would say; to open their minds to a
totally different valuation of happiness and success, and how they were to
The Disciple in Relation to the World (5:13-16)
Embedded in these spare metaphors is one of the most
central and potentially revolutionary themes in the teaching of Jesus:
the challenge for the followers of Jesus to take seriously Israel’s world
mission, to reach outside the limits of Judaism for the benefit of the
nations. While it leaves us guessing in what respect disciples are the
salt of the earth, we are on firmer ground in understanding the metaphor
of disciples as light of the world: the anonymous prophet writing
in Isaiah 49:6 makes clear the mission of the Servant as “a light
to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Such a universalism puts Israel
to the test: to the extent that Israel ignores this mission she is
as useless as salt without taste, or a lamp lighted and then hidden under
a bushel basket. Click on Salt and Light,
for further discussion of this passage.
July 14, 2003
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