We have been presenting a series of messages based upon the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus offers a broad range of wisdom on many different subjects, which for some people seem problematic. Richard Beck, professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University has outlined 3 of these problems in his blog, Experimental Theology.
- Morally Impossible
Some within the Christian tradition have argued that the Sermon is so severe and lofty in its demands that it can't possibly be obeyed. Then why was the Sermon given? It was given to expose and humble us. By setting the bar so high the Sermon shows us that we can't be righteous through moral performance.
- Theologically Problematic
On a related note, the Sermon equates righteousness with moral performance: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
You want forgiveness? It's not about grace: You have to forgive. You don't want God to judge you? It's not about grace: You must not judge others. When it comes to getting into heaven, the measure you use to judge others will be the measure that you'll be judged by (Matthew 7.1-2). Not much atonement theology here.
- Politically Irresponsible
Perhaps the biggest argument that the Sermon shouldn't be fully obeyed is the opinion that the Sermon is politically impractical.
"Do not resist an evil person," "love your enemies," and "turn the other cheek" are taken to be immoral stances in the face of evil.
For me, the reason that the Sermon on the Mount can seem so problematic is that Jesus has offered a revolutionary teaching on the journey of life for every human. He is not talking about political systems and national policy. The Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to create, restore or be reconciled in our personal relationships to others through the power of divine love. It is the love of God, which can transform any human heart from fear and greed to selfless love. It is a long journey, made possible by heeding the words of Jesus.
After all, the Sermon on the Mount ends with Jesus telling the story of the wise and foolish builders. The foolish builder’s house collapsed while the wise builder’s house stood through the storms of life. The difference? The wise builder heard the words of Jesus and put them into practice. That is, he acted in such a way as to reach the goal: to have a heart filled with the love of God.