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Contexts and Comparisons Chapter 2 - Sacred Texts 

PASSAGE FOR STUDY

The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount, the longest discourse attributed to Jesus, details the basic principles of the divine kingdom that he envisaged. In the Beatitudes, after summarizing the spiritual perfection that should characterize the members of God's kingdom, Jesus continues with an extended commentary that touches on such points as the kingdom's members and the example they must set through their religious acts of fasting, praying, almsgiving, and renunciation.

Matthew's reverential allusions to the law are references to the Torah, since he is writing for Jews. His attitude contrasts sharply with that of Paul who, writing mainly for Gentiles, considered the written law superseded by the law of faith.

The material excerpted here from the Revised Standard Bible (1971),appears in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew's narrative, not necessarily in the order in which Matthew presents it.

5:14 "You are light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. . . .

5:23 "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. . . .

5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. . . .

5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

6:1 "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money or riches].

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."

7:8 "For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."

Questions for Discussion

  1. What examples of parallelism can you identify?
  2. Do you think that the admonition to turn the other cheek should be taken literally? If so, can one reconcile such an admonition with the obligation to serve in the army and kill?
  3. Compare the Sermon on the Mount with the Ten Commandments. How do the two selections differ in their expectations of ethical conduct? Can you suggest any reason for their differences?

 

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The Beatitudes
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The Ages of Classical Antiquity

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