the Sermon on the Mount – anything but moral common sense

We’ve begun working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount on campus at La Trobe. And I’m having a ball!

This week we tuned in to Matthew 5.13-20, exploring what Jesus might say to the university’s Secular Society club — in conversation with some of its members.

One of the guys made a comment that’s been rattling around my head the last couple of days.

He suggested that the ethic Jesus commends in the Sermon — the lifestyle of faithful witness and positive influence captured by the comparisons with salt and light — was little more than moral common sense.

For him, Jesus simply seems to be on about the kind of thing both religious and non-religious people strive after when they’re at their best.

There are lots of things that could be said about this. But what intrigues me most about this suggestion is that Jesus keeps doing something in the Sermon on the Mount that’s anything but common sense — and that I’m sure many would find morally objectionable.

What does Jesus keep doing?

He keeps presenting himself — and thus how people respond to him — as decisive.

The portrait of the members of God’s kingdom painted in the beatitudes is crowned with Jesus’ insistence that “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account“.

And the reason he gives is even more outrageous — explicitly equating Jesus’ disciples with the prophets who spoke for Israel’s God, and thus implicitly equating himself with Israel’s God:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Something similar could be said of his programmatic claim to fulfil the law and the prophets — not abolishing the Old Testament’s moral code, or the hopes and promises stitched into it, but perfectly and representatively embodying its deepest and widest intention.

That one man, and thus what you and I make of this one man, could be so important strikes me as anything but moral common sense. Unless Jesus is who he claims to be, this is not only arrogant but borderline psychotic!

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