The sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached. (Mt.5-7) In the first verse, we read: ‘when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and he sat down, his disciples came to him.’ This description might seem insignificant, but it is important for by this, Jesus is establishing himself as the new Moses. In the Old Testament, Moses went up the mountain to receive the law and came down to teach the people. Here in the New Testament, Jesus goes up a mountain and sits down to teach. While Moses was given the law in the OT, Jesus is the one who gives the law in the NT.
In his teaching, Jesus says: ‘You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…’which shows that Jesus has authority even over the Torah, that is sacred for the Jews. Jesus has come as the new Moses, not to abolish the law but to fulfil it. In doing this, he raised it to a new level, a higher standard. The paradoxes in this text of the new testament, is one of the most distinctive teachings of Christianity.
How do we make sense of this 7th Sunday’s gospel invitation to ‘love our enemies’ and pray for those who persecute us? Why should Jesus tell us to love someone who persecutes us, someone mean to us? Why shouldn’t we give or pay back` an eye for an eye’? Why should we turn the other check to someone who has stuck us?
In this section of the text of the sermon on the mount, Jesus shows us how to go beyond the mere observance of the law to the spirit behind the law: how to be true children of God who is Love and to reflect God’s Will in our everyday actions and relationships. We may be tempted to ask: does Jesus want us to be door mats? No, not at all! This old law known as ‘lex-talionis’ was the law of retaliation or the law of revenge. The law was to ensure proportionate justice so that an injured party demanding for a penalty would not exceed the damage caused by the opponent. (Deut:19:21; Ex:21:23-25: Lev:24:19-20)
Jesus, in his teaching, wants his listeners and, indeed, every one of us to learn that paying evil with evil is not the way of God, our father who is Love. We resist evil with good. The godly attitude towards enemies and those who hurt us is love, compassion and forgiveness. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Rather, let our enemies bring out the best in us. Jesus is aware that this will be difficult, yet he tells us to respond in love, trusting that the father will destroy these enemies by transforming them into our friends. Our attitude towards those who hurt us must go beyond non-violence to a positive love. By so doing, we are imitating God, who shows love to the just and the unjust. He sends ‘his rain and sun’ on everyone.
It is not possible to get to this level by our own will. No, it is through God’s gift of grace. This is why love is called a theological virtue. Love is a participation or sharing in the divine life of God. We are born of grace and will be given the power to love if we ask for it in prayer. Many martyrs were tortured, imprisoned and executed. They chose to love and forgave their executioners. In our society full of judgmental, unforgiving and close-minded people, we pray for the grace to be different and allow for the triumph of God’s Kingdom in us.
Photo Credit : Tara Bau