We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Matthew 5:13-21

Matthew opens the sermon on the mount with a description of the blessings Jesus' followers can expect from their faith in him (5:3-12).  It is important to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus never actually preached this "sermon".  It is a compilation of oral traditions augmented possibly by the memories of those who heard Jesus teach first hand (they would have had to be young at the time).  The key point here is that the compiler/author put these remembered teachings in a certain order.  That order starts out with a vision statement of the blessings of the faith and purposefully goes on with this next section of the "sermon," which contains stark warnings about the consequences of failing to live up to that vision.

So, why did the author put this passage immediately after the vision?  Maybe she or he meant for his or her audience to hear something like this: "You Jesus followers are like salt.  Salt is valuable and useful in a lot of ways.  But there's a danger here. If you only look like salt but don't also taste like salt, you're useless.  If that is the case, you'll get thrown out and be trampled on in disgust!  You're like a bright candle, but you're no good if you can't be seen.  In that case, no one else can find their way to God.  But, don't think living this life in Christ is easy.  It is a challenge!  You have to be more faithful than the rich, educated, and very religious upper class Pharisees and Sadducees!  If you don't live up to this high standard, you won't amount to much and surely won't experience the blessings of the Kingdom to any great extent.  If, however, you do live a quality life of faith, the rewards will be amazing.  But, be warned.  This is not easy.  You really have to be more faithful, more spiritual, and more moral than those who have reputations for such things.  This is not easy, got it?"

We've been reading this gospel for nineteen-plus centuries and have gotten used to it.  It is land that has long since been cleared and plowed over (and over and over and over).  But, it must have been powerful stuff for those who heard it for the first time.  What a vision!  What a challenge!  For most, their previous lives would have been mostly just coping with poverty, trying to get by, while trying to cope with living hand to mouth.  If this gospel's message is any measure, the Jesus Movement looked at them in a very different way, saw them as being valuable (like salt), useful and bright (like light), and worthy of the challenge of being more faithful than the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Worthy!  Not just poor (pick you color) trash.

One other thought:  the very clear warnings of the consequences of failure contained in this passage suggest that there was a need for such warnings.  Some followers of Jesus were not measuring up.  They had lost their flavor and were not leading visibly exemplary lives. Ya gotta walk the walk!  No pain no gain.