Introducing the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) #4

The Sermon on the Mount is an Ethic for the New People of God
The Sermon on the Mount, then, is a new ethic for this new community.
Matthew structures his Gospel into five blocks of Jesus’ teaching which seem designed to mirror the five books of Moses in the Old Testament. Moreover, just as Moses received the old covenant law on a mountain, so Jesus gives his new covenant law on a mountain (5:1). ‘You have heard it said,’ repeats Jesus, often alluding in part to one of the ten commandments. But now he gives a new law for his new people. Here is a liberating ethic for a liberated people.

The beatitudes are, then, both:
– descriptions of God’s liberation and
– descriptions of God’s liberated and liberating community

How should God’s liberated people live? Like the God who has liberated them (see 5:48). This helps address our two opening questions.

1. Is it practical? Or is it designed for a future era or to make us realise our need of Christ?

Yes, the Sermon on the Mount is practical. In one sense it does belong to a future era, but that future era has broken into history through the and resurrection of Jesus. It is also true that those who are not part of Jesus’ new community will find it impossible to fulfil and so, yes, they ought then to be driven to realise their need of Christ. But this is first and foremost an ethic to be lived. This is an ethic for Jesus’ new community living in the light of his new age, empowered with his new power through the Holy Spirit. There may be elements of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) within the Sermon, but it is a Sermon to be lived.

Does it offer a personal ethic or a social ethic? Should I, for example, just renounce in my personal interactions or also take a pacifist stance in my social involvement?

The Sermon on the Mount is to be lived by the Christian community. So it is neither an individual ethic to be practiced in isolation, nor is it an ethic for society at large. It is about how the new community conducts itself in the old age even as it witnesses to the arrival of the new age. The state (and Christians acting on behalf of the state) may rightly use the sword (violence) to prevent evil (Romans 13). But the Christian community does not grow and defend itself in this way. The Christian community is to love its enemies.