As Chris mentioned in a post yesterday, a group of us are reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for Lent. (We set up a Facebook page, if you’d like to join the conversation.) Throughout the Lenten season, Chris and I will be posting occasional thoughts here about our experience with this extraordinary passage.
My wife and I read Matthew 5-7 out loud to each other yesterday morning (Ash Wednesday), and I ended up thinking about it all day. In particular, I remembered some of my early experiences with the Sermon on the Mount. When I was a teenager, I was taught–for the life of me, I can’t remember by whom–that Jesus didn’t really expect us to do a lot of the things he talked about in the gospels. There are certain things we are supposed to do, of course. But there are other things, hard things, things that are out of place in the real world, that can only be interpreted as hyperbole. Like all those times in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says, “You have heard it said…but I tell you…” I was taught that Jesus was taking the Law to the next level, showing us beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is so impossible to get to heaven by our own righteousness that we have no choice but to fall back on grace. Thus, for the longest time, I didn’t read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount as a kind of State of the Union speech for the in-breaking Kingdom of God; I read it as Jesus’s most powerful verbal reminder of human depravity.