On Being Perfect!
We have been reflecting on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount for the last several weeks. For today I want to explore the following questions: Why is it called the sermon on the mountain? What is the sermon on the plains? For Matthew his message is predominantly directed at the Jewish readers. For a Jewish person mountain is a location of great religious significance. It was on the mountain called Mount Sinai;Moses received the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Remember the words of today’s Psalm 119 “LEAD ME IN YOUR PATH OF YOUR COMMANDEMENTS”. “HELP ME FIND DELIGHT IN YOUR COMMANDMENTS”. Abraham took his son Isaac to offer him as a burnt sacrifice to God on a mountain called Morriah. Then we have mount Carmel, mount Olive and the Mount Zion on which Jerusalem was built. In the context of Matthew and the mountain, let me share with you another Psalm” I WILL LIFT UP MY EYES TO THE HILLS FROM WHERE WILL MY HELP COME? MY HELP COMES FROM THE LORD WHO MADE HEAVEN AND EARTH. Psalm121.Here the Psalmist is challenging every Jewish believer to know the ground to which they belonged. Tillich the theologian defined God as the ground of our being. So the Psalm 121 is a reminder for them to know the rock from which they were hewn and the quarry from which they were dug. These are phrases of Prophet Isaiah. I am not really surprised as to why Matthew is locating Jesus’s sermon on a mountain. How about the plains? I am of the opinion that Luke’s favourite people were the commoners, the outcast, the gentiles and the people of the margin. I think it is so convenient for such people to gather and listen to a talk by Jesus on a plain ground rather than climbing up and down the mountains. In the power point pictures for today both locations are captured by the artists. One is the Matthew’s version of the Sermon on a mountain side and the other is the Lukan version on the plains. One more thing: we are also told by some biblical scholars the Lukan version is more of a seminar for the disciples.
And now I want to share with you a word about the context. We need to look at Galilee two thousand years ago, a land filled with the ostracised and marginalised, the drunkards and the prostitutes. Not so much of the land of milk and honey but of lepers and the lame, the deaf and the blind and they were roaming around the lake all the time. This part of the world was referred to as the Galilee of the nations. It meant that in Galilee there were gentiles from all over the world. This section of Israel was also a battlefield where the Roman Army and the Zealots were at war. In brief it was here the Galileans were witnessing death and destruction on a daily basis. If I remove this sermon out of this context will be something like the annual state of the union address in Washington in which we hear the same old same old stuff year after year. And then to give a caption that our union is stronger than ever. Or perhaps it will sound like a religious lecture in a crystal cathedral which is often far removed from the hustle and bustle of our daily struggles and the global problems of Syria and Ukraine. The context is important and here it is characterized by murder and violence, and defined by suspicion and fear rather than freedom and trust. A context in which violence was the order of the day and Jesus appears in the midst of it and says boldly: Blessed are you when you suffer, blessed are you when you are persecuted, blessed are you when you thirst for justice. Blessed are you if you can be the light of the world. How can I be a light of the world if I cannot burn even a little bit of myself in order to brighten the path to my neighbour? This is not the image of the 21st century electronic age folks. Jesus is referring here to the wax and the wicks of light, of melting and burning or the oil lamps of his days. Blessed are you if you can be the salt of the earth. How can I be the salt without dissolving myself to enrich the life of my neighbour? It is in this particular context Jesus says boldly: LOVE YOR ENEMIES. Friends! We know that Hinduism directs us to the understanding of God as truth and the meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood are to be found in the teachings of Islam. Buddhism however takes us to the depth of compassion and Judaism is wrapped up in commandments, the laws and the prophets teachings summed up. How about Christianity? It is a religion of love. No wonder wrote Charles Wesley: LOVE DIVINE ALL LOVES EXCELLING.JOY OF HEAVEN TO EARTH COME DOWN. terrific! I will take six of those. Jesus said in our scripture today “you have heard it was said, love your neighbour and hate your enemies, but I say to you now, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
The text I chose for you today is the very last verse of the 5th chapter of Matthew. Be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect. What is perfection? It is at times a scary word, depending on who is using it and when it is being used. People often say they make a perfect couple; it was a perfect wedding. You have done a perfect job. You preached a perfect sermon. What do these expressions mean? Well the dictionaries both the Webster and the Oxford, define perfection as precise, accurate, exact and free from faults and defects. There is another meaning: Perfection is a state of being. And one thing more: perfection is a highest degree of excellence. John Wesley said in religious terms, perfection is the work of sanctifying grace. Let me simplify it. He said perfection is never a finished job. We are on the way to perfection. We have a mandate from Jesus, to love God and to love our fellow beings. And Wesley said it is a life time endeavour. However Jesus said in Matthew 5: BE PERFECT. How can I be perfect for my daily struggle is always whether to be or not to be? The Psalmist says BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. The only way to be on the way to perfection is to learn to be. The most difficult thing for us is to be. To be or not to be is our daily struggle. Be kind to one another. Be of good cheer. One of the books Theologian Paul Tillich wrote long ago is”The courage to be”. Jesus said “if you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruits. Be! Be Still! And Be Perfect.
Now I would lie to conclude this message probably the way Jesus concluded it with his disciples. After his long spiritual discourse, Jesus asked his disciples: Do you have anything to add? Simon Peter asked” Do we have to write this down? Andrew asked are we supposed to memorize this. James asked: Will we have a test on this? Bartholomew asked: Do we have to turn this in? John asked: Do all disciples have to learn this? Mathew asked: when do we get out of here? Judas asked: what does this have to do with real life? There were also some Pharisees present in the seminar and one of them asked Jesus his lesson plans and inquired of Jesus his terminal objectives in the cognitive domain.