In Matthew chapters 5-7 Jesus delivers the greatest sermon the world has ever known. Christians should read these three chapters frequently. In fact, we would do well to memorize them.
But these chapters (also known as The Sermon on the Mount) can make us squirm a bit. Jesus says counter-cultural things like, “[I]f anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” Jesus didn’t really mean that did he?
Some try to wiggle around these very challenging statements of Jesus by saying that The Sermon on the Mount is an ideal rather than a directive.
I’m just not sure about that. Is there any place in the gospels where Jesus referred to his teaching as an ideal rather than a command? I can’t imagine Jesus ever saying “You aren’t really expected to pull this off, but it’s nice to think about and a good goal to shoot for.”
So what is the Sermon on the Mount saying to us?
Practice mercy – gratuitous mercy.
Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you… Living out The Sermon on the Mount is embodied mercy.
Will we practice these perfectly? Of course not. They are hard teachings. But we keep these mandates before us and we keep at it.
This is why we follow Jesus. He is radical mercy in the flesh. His words and actions, by the world’s standards, can be uncomfortable and at times seem foolish and difficult to agree with. But as my former theology professor used to say, “Why should the Teacher be crucified for reinforcing what everyone else already knows and believes?”