aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Hard words

We're doing the Gospel of Matthew in our Wednesday noon Bible study, and right now we're smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. For as long as I've been around religious folk, I've heard people -- both inside and outside the Church -- say that Jesus preached a simple gospel of peace and love typified by the Sermon on the Mount. "If we all just lived by the Sermon on the Mount," they say, "we'd be fine." According to them, this simple peacefest was later corrupted by the likes of St. Paul and others, who wanted to make something difficult and divisive and condemnatory out of it.

Well, that's a lovely idea, but the problem with it is, it's all backwards. All the most flaming threats of hell in the New Testament are said by Jesus, and the smokiest bons mots are in the Sermon on the Mount. Paul and John, in their different ways, tried to make Jesus's words something you could live your life by. Paul and John are always accounting for human frailty. Jesus didn't concede much to human frailty. He frankly admitted that his message was simply impossible to understand or to obey without supernatural assistance. The people rabbiting on about Hippie Jesus and the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount don't know either.

All this comes as a shock to those doing a serious Bible study on Matthew for the first time. The actual words of Jesus are met with disbelief, then by rules lawyering. Like the Scribes and Pharisees of old, modern Christians faced with the Sermon on the Mount try to twist the words around so that some way, somehow, they exonerate what they are already doing or feeling or wanting. But the thing about Jesus's teachings is that they drive you to face the impossibility of keeping the rules. The law is holy, but we can't keep it. There is no way to make a set of rules that you can stay on the right side of -- even if you just make them up yourself. And simply throwing the rules out isn't allowed.

We are sinners. More than that, we are sinners from the core of our being. We corrupt everything we touch. And until you face that situation, you are just playing with counters. That's the point of the Sermon on the Mount. That's what Jesus was driving at. Until you give up all hope of justification by staying on the right side of the rules, you are just a Pharisee. So long as you think you can modify or interpret the rules to fit what you are able or willing to obey, your are just a Scribe. And Jesus said, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

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