“The Sermon on the Mount” from the Gospel of Matthew

Background:  Biblical scholars today generally acknowledge that this passage (and its parallel in Luke 6:17-49) has been shaped by previous “collections” of “sayings” of Jesus gathered together for instructional purposes by the disciples of Jesus after his death.  Hence Jesus most likely never gave such a “sermon.”  Nevertheless, the material collected here reflects the context of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and Judea, so that many of the individual sayings authentically reflect his message.

The passage begins with “the beatitudes” (5:3-11).  What do the individual elements mean?  For example, what is “poor in spirit”?  (And for comparison, notice that Luke’s parallel phrase simply as “the poor.”)  What is meant by hungering and thirsting for “righteousness”?  What is “purity of heart”?  How is being reviled and persecuted a blessing?  Have you noticed disciples of Jesus doing any of this lately?  If so, where?  If not, what does that mean?

What do you think the brief passage (5:17-20) about the necessity of fulfilling the law?  Does this sound like Jesus intended to start a new religion (i.e., Christianity)?

The passage about adultery and “lust” (5:27-28) is often cited by feminists as an example of Jesus’ attitude toward women that breaks down sexist barriers.  How might this be so?

The sayings where Jesus contrasts (5:21-48) “traditional authorities” with “his own teaching” (identifiable by the phrase, “but I say to you”) appear to be characteristic of Jesus’ style.  How many of these contrasts can you identify collected here?  Which ones appear “reasonable” or “acceptable” to you?  Do any appear “outrageous” or “ridiculous” or “impossible”?  If you think not, look carefully again at the admonition to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (44); in your experience is this something disciples of Jesus regularly do?  For example, does Bill Clinton follow this advice when dealing with Saddam Hussein?  Since he claims to be a Christian, should he not?

What do you think of the advice (6:1-16) about praying?  If you were brought up in a Christian family or community, were you given such advice?

What might be the force behind the admonition about not being able to serve two masters? (6:24)  Does this particular point have any relevance to Francis’ and Clare’s insistence on poverty?  Why or why not?

What is the passage about “judgment” (7:1-5) getting at?  What is meant by “throwing your pearls before swine”? (7:6)  What insight might you derive from the passage that dismisses those who call upon Jesus but do not do the will of his father? (7:21-23)  Notice the concluding observation (7:28-29) about the impact Jesus made on those who heard him; tie this into the earlier contrast sayings.

What does this “sermon” have to do with value or meaning?  How does it relate to the basic claims of Bonaventure?  Of Clare?  Of any of the other authors in this section?