4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
The Sermon on the Mount can be said to be the Code of Moral Conduct as envisioned by Jesus. Though at times it can sound confusing and condescending, Jesus envisions the path of discipleship as a way to total happiness rather than a burden to bear for the fear of God’s retribution. Matthew, whose audience were mainly adult Jewish converts, had always in his mind intended to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. With this in mind, Matthew parallels Jesus with Moses of the Old Testament. Just as Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to provide the Code of moral conduct, i.e. the Ten Commandments, Matthew has Jesus going up a hill and now presenting His sermon, that is to be the code of conduct for all those who profess faith in Jesus.
However, there are some differences in the way Jesus presents His sermon as compared to the way Moses presented his. Though the intended outcome is the same, the style is which it is presented is the most apparent difference. Moses presents the Ten Commandments in a more prohibitive manner; whereas Jesus presents His in a more positive manner… the language is no longer in terms of obligation but as an invitation that calls for a gratuitous response.
The Sermon on the Mounts starts with the teaching of Jesus on many aspects of Christian life… it starts with chapter 5 and concludes in chapter 7. It is as if Jesus codifies His teachings and then begin to apply them to different aspects of human life. Jesus will talk about the goal of Christian discipleship, which is to experience the fullness of life that God offers us. In other words, sharing in the joy of being a disciple of Jesus.
Pope Francis’ very first apostolic exhortation is entitled ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ and the direction that he offers the Church is to rediscover the joy and happiness of being a follower of Jesus which has for some time, may have taken a back seat in the Church… the joy of knowing Jesus and the excitement of wanting to know Him more.
Seen in this light then, the Sermon on the Mount is more than just adherence to the Ten Commandments. It is no longer a mundane and lifeless following but discovering God in a new vision that brings back some enthusiasm in this relationship with God. St Thomas Aquinas, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, speaks of the goal of Christian life which is “blessedness”. The word used in today’s Gospel is “happy” while other translations would have it as “blessed”. Both these words point to a same reality, that is, to discover the inner joy of being a disciple of Jesus. To move away from faith as merely obligation and to embrace Jesus because of conviction – a conviction that comes in simple and ordinary ways. The way Jesus puts it in His sermon is that happiness comes from having dependence of God (poor in spirit), in being gentle, in seeking the truth, in being merciful, in purity of heart and mind, to be peacemakers
The Sermon on the Mount in no way compromises Moses’ Ten Commandments; but rather it provides us with a new vision, direction and even motivation. For some of us, obligations work well since it gives a sense of discipline. There are those who also feel obligation as suffocating and perhaps the Sermon on the Mount invites us to look at Jesus as the life giver and not just the law giver. He has come to set us free and not to enslave us.
May we discover once again the joy, happiness and the blessedness of being a disciple of Jesus!
Image: Christ preaching sermon on the mount to the poor, the mourners, the persecuted – Bethlehem Lutheran Church