“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
As blog subject matter I have been in the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly the Beatitudes, for most of the summer. An in-depth look at this passage of Scripture has been part of my doctoral study program. In it, Jesus describes the community of people who will make up His Kingdom. Like the Law that was given to Moses, it created the civic, moral and ceremonial means by which His people would live. It is so radically different than anything that anyone had heard before that it required a complete reassessment of the world in which God’s Kingdom person was immersed.
But suppose that there was a Mount-Next-Door and a local prophet offered an alternative sermon by which people could align their lives? It might go like this…
The Sermon on the Mount-Next-Door
- Blessed are you when you feel good about yourself – you deserve it.
- Blessed are you when you never have to mourn because God protects you from all of the untidiness of this world.
- Blessed are you when you assert rights and make sure no one takes advantage of you.
- Blessed are you when you receive favor and advantage from this world’s systems – especially from one another.
- Blessed are you when you live so much more righteously than others – then your criticism and judgment of them is just.
- Blessed are you when you manage the complexities of a compartmentalized world and adjust to every relationship.
- Blessed are you when you stay enough out of conflict to never be thought of as controversial and and you avoid tough encounters.
- Blessed are you when people speak well of you and you are rewarded for living in the world successfully — having comfort and advantage despite the tension with your quietly held faith.
- Be Christian and declare it, but don’t be too weird. Don’t rock the boat. Who are you to judge? Who are you to say what is right and wrong? Keep your head low. Stay out of controversy. Don’t invite trouble, stay out of the light.
- Don’t be so dogmatic. Don’t be so religious. Adapt to the times. Don’t call anyone a fool unless it is in the name of social justice and you are accusing other churches of not being socially conscious enough.
- Don’t be too wigged out about sexuality or porn. Living together is not really a sin and premarital sex is no biggie. Each generation has its own challenges and mores for dealing with them. At least people living together never worry about divorce.
- Do what is right in your own mind – you are all the judge you need!
Maybe that is the sermon that the itching ears of our culture would like to hear? Compromising values with culture is nothing new. The rabbis of Jesus’ day had become experts in loopholes… they had so analyzed the Law that they robbed it of any of its spiritual richness. So Jesus’ calls them on the carpet.
Jesus always challenges the status quo. In Matthew 19 he was asked a question about divorce. Set in terms of the prevailing rabbinical arguments of the day, He was asked when it was appropriate for a man to get out of a marriage. Jesus responded by telling them how to stay in a marriage. That was not the answer they sought. They had already established that the relationship was undesirable. But He so thoroughly refuted any attempt to justify getting out of a marriage that they were left speechless by His answer. The apostles wrestled with the intensity of His words. When they were with Him alone they said, ”If this is so it would be better not to marry.” This was the perfect place for Jesus to moderate a little – to explain that it wasn’t so hard as He made it seem. But no! He doubled down, “Not every man can receive this saying…” In a nutshell, He said, “Yeah, its pretty hard.”
Jesus makes no attempt to compromise or moderate the conditions of Kingdom life, for which The Sermon on the Mount is a radical prescription. It is so at odds with the prevailing culture that it arrests our sense of comfort — whether at the time of Jesus or in contemporary culture. It demands a reassessment of how we have ordered ourselves within our world. At the time He gave the Sermon on the Mount the wisdom of the day, the oral traditions (Mishnah), had already argued positions that compromised the Word of God. They spoke in their own authority (while claiming God’s authority from Scripture). Jesus repeatedly refers to their traditions, “you have heard it said…”
But then He would speak from real authority — His own…, “but I say.” Jesus brings clarity in a way for which they were unprepared. He does that with us today as well. We have to be prepared to have Jesus completely expose our compromises if we hope to follow Him. He will not scratch our itching ears. “When Christ calls a man,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come and die.”There is no cheap grace and no easy way. We are to be a people set apart. There is only the way of the cross. And it is costly. His ultimate appeal is to come to Him. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. In turning to Jesus we learn what it is to live in His Kingdom. And He shows us how to build our house on a rock.
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29)