Verses 1-11 are known as the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount. Such well-known platitudes; how can anyone criticize this speech? Even the SAB gives it a thumbs-up and calls it ‘nice sayings of Jesus’. Funny, I don’t see it that way. Several of these statements are blatantly incorrect – not everyone who mourns receives comfort; not everyone who seeks justice will be satisfied; not everyone who is merciful will receive mercy from others, etc. Furthermore, I view them collectively as just another biblical admonition to be meek and humble and accept your lot. If your life on earth sucks, don’t bother trying to change it; you will receive justice and reward from god later in heaven.
Jesus’ preaching continues, giving us phrases like ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. Here’s an interesting perspective on that little speech.
V 17 is important – read and consider the implications. Jesus endorses and upholds all those OT laws. Remember that when apologists claim the OT is not relevant. V 21-26 offer some good advice about settling your differences and making amends, but they also sounds dangerously close to condemning ‘thought crime’. V 27-30, about adultery, are definitely about thought crime, and pretty twisted. V 33-37 deal with oaths (one’s word is enough). Next we get the ‘turn the other cheek’ speech, followed by ‘love your enemies’ – I see this as just another ‘shut up and accept whatever hand you’re dealt’ passage. Jesus’ conciliatory, peaceable attitude toward life is an improvement over the bloodthirsty battles of the OT, but isn’t there a happy medium? Is it not OK to assert your rights without resorting to violence?
This starts off well enough, with advice about giving to the needy without publicly boasting about it – why don’t more Christians heed it? Then it gets even better – don’t turn prayer into a public display (what a novel idea!) – followed by the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve always been curious about the last line (‘for thine is the kingdom…’) as it is not always included. Apparently it is not in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, nor in the oldest versions of Matthew’s, so was likely not part of the original gospel and was added later. But then there’s more! We are told that if we don’t forgive others, god won’t forgive us. Then there’s another admonition about public displays of piety – if you’re fasting, don’t put on a big act to garner sympathy and admiration; suck up your misery and keep it to yourself. Wow….
V 19 to the end offer miscellaneous advice, much of it poetic and attractive-sounding but meaningless or just plain wrong. (Sort of like Proverbs.) “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (v 21) Ain’t that sweet – but what does it mean? How about ‘you cannot serve two masters’ (v 24) – I’d say that one’s true. But the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ advice (v 25-34) is not only false, it’s harmful. I’ll heed the story of the grasshopper and the ant, thank you very much, and be much better prepared for what life has to throw at me. And who says that birds aren’t important or valuable? (v 26)