In the “Sermon On The Mount” is Jesus’ vision for the Christian life. This is what it looks like to live truly and deeply the life to which Jesus calls us.
It is a challenging vision:
The Sermon On The Mount Vision
- find blessing in our poverty
- know that whenever we mourn, comfort is present
- be gentle, forbearing, patient
- hunger and thirst for that which is good and right
- practice mercy towards all people
- be pure in heart, single-mindedly focused on God before all else
- act as peacemakers in all situations
- return blessing when we are persecuted
- rejoice when we are reviled
- never be angry
- never insult anyone
- always seek reconciliation
- never use another person for personal gratification or gain
- never fail at marriage
- always stand by our word, living with integrity and consistency
- never resist a person who does evil
- not retaliate when we are wronged
- give a thief more than they take from us
- exceed the demands of those who are unreasonable
- never refuse those who beg from us
- love our enemies
- pray for those who persecute us
In case we miss the point, Jesus sums up in the middle of the sermon, instructing his followers to:
be perfect, therefore,
as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5:48)
Could it be that the real point here is for us to understand that the vision Jesus gives us is in fact impossible? We cannot meet the demands of this high call. We will always fail to fully measure up to the extraordinary dignity and beauty Jesus holds out for us in his “Sermon On The Mount.”
We are a community of people who fail. Over and over, we fall short of that goal of luminous humanity for which we were created. We live as something less than what we most truly are as beings created in the image of God.
Paul was not engaging in hyperbole, or unnecessary cynicism when he wrote,
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The world is not divided into those who fail and those who never fail. The only division is between those who are willing to acknowledge our failures and those who indulge themselves in the fantasy of success. If we believe we can measure up to the standard of what it means to be truly human, our vision is too small. We need to expand our understanding of what it means to be human. Then we need to acknowledge that we have never fulfilled this exalted vision.
If we take “The Sermon On The Mount” as our guide, we will never excuse our behaviour saying, “Well what do you expect, I’m only human.” We are not living lives that are “only human” when we fail, we are living lives that are less than human; we are living below the extraordinary luminous beauty for which we were created.
The purpose of the Sermon On The Mount is to hold up to our lives the mirror of what it means to be truly human in order that we may be honest about our failures. This is not a council for despair, but a call to honesty, self-awareness, and humility. The challenge is to see our shortcomings and yet, at the same time, to preserve the grand vision and continue moving by tiny increments towards that vision that always exceeds our grasp.
Paul captures the journey saying,
this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God. (Philippians 3:13, 14)
I will not be bogged down by the failures of the past. I will keep the “heavenly call” always before me. When I fall, I will not despair. I will pick myself up, brush myself off, and carry on until the next time I stumble.
There is no shame in the stumbling. My stumbling is the seedbed in which compassion grows. Seeing honestly my own failures in the grand call of being human, I am able to accept more graciously the failures of others. We are different only in matters of degree when it comes to falling short of “the glory of God.”
We are not defined by our failures. Our failures are merely God’s wake up call to abandon ourselves more deeply to that love that sustains us and to embrace with greater tenderness the brokenness through which that love is known.