ZEPHANIAH 2:3,3:12-13 | 1 CORINTHIANS 1:26-31 | MATTHEW 5:1-12
The most famous passage in the New Testament, the Beatitudes, sometimes called the Sermon on the Mount, is the focus of our reflection today. These nine one sentence statements act as an introduction to the teachings of Jesus. They begin with chapter 5 and continue through chapters 6 and 7. By setting Jesus’ teaching on a hilltop Matthew is clearly referencing the giving of the Law, the commandments, to Moses on Mount Sinai. These three chapters comprise the new law, the new commandments. Let’s compare them briefly.
The account of Moses giving the Law is in the book of Exodus, chapters 20 thru 31. Here’s the progression. Moses went up the mountain, was given the Law, and then returned to present to the people the commandments God had given to them. After the presentation of the 10 Commandments, a long series of applications followed: laws about the construction of altars, laws regarding the treatment of slaves, laws concerning violent acts, the responsibility of land owners, about repayment, moral and religious laws, liturgical laws etc.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the giving of the New Law begins with the presentation of the 9 Beatitudes. They aren’t laws. They don’t begin with “thou shalt, and thou shalt not” statements as in the old law. Rather, they’re a celebration of a new way of living. “How happy are the poor in spirit!” “How happy are the those who are humble!” Continuing, Jesus tells us to be the salt of the earth and light for the world. He teaches how to deal with our anger, with divorce, with revenge. He teaches about the necessity of loving our enemies. He teaches the Lord’s Prayer and a new way to pray; he teaches us to ask so that we can receive, to seek so we can find and to knock so
that the door to heaven can be opened for us. He tells us about the narrow gate that leads to God.
I’m making this comparison of the old law to the new law for several reasons. We need to be aware that Jesus’ teaching represents an evolution. The old law wasn’t only a spiritual document, it was secular, too. It formed the basis of a constitution for Israel. It made Israel a nation based on the rule of law. In Jesus’ time, Roman law was the law of the land. Jewish law applied only to Jews; it was only religious law. The Roman republic had engulfed Israel as a nation; Roman law was now the law of the land.
The new law that Jesus preached reigned in the kingdom of the heart. In fact, if embraced, it could enrich any national constitution or body of laws. It could give law a soul.
I think we Christians have forgotten Jesus’ teaching. We look to the law of the land as the final word; but law needs to evolve. In the United States, for instance, slaves were legally two-thirds of a person under the law until 1886. In Canada, women only came under the definition of a legal person in 1929.
The sermon that Jesus preached that day on a hillside in Galilee put the spotlight on the heart. There would be no voting yea or nay on these laws because they’re personal goals. Each of us must make them part of our lives one evolutionary step at a time. These laws will change us. As we change, so will the laws of the land. There’ll be more soul to the laws, more justice, less political polarization and more unity.
Read the teachings of Jesus often. Spend time contemplating them. Make sure they’re the basis of your prayer. Feed your soul with them. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”