When we consider the practicality of the Sermon on the Mount, commentators are divided. There are several views:. It is this last view which we hold. Jesus was teaching his followers a new way of life, a kingdom way of life that is only possible by the Spirit, with which he himself would baptize the Church.
A great deal of energy has been expended in the last years to figure out the origins of the Gospels, and the Sermon on the Mount in particular. Are these the actual words Jesus spoke in a single sermon on a single occasion? Or are they a compilation and condensation of his teaching? Or are these Jesus' words at all? Are they perhaps merely words his disciples put in his mouth decades after his death?
We're not going to spend much time exploring these kinds of questions. First of all, they are highly speculative. Many scholars have become so distracted in dissecting the form and discerning the origins of Jesus' words, that they have neglected to teach them with conviction and passion.
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We cannot afford such a tragic mistake. But I think it will be useful to frame some answers to the most common questions that a study of the Sermon on the Mount may raise:. Even a casual reader will notice that the first three gospels -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- have many verbal similarities, while the fourth gospel seems quite different.
Because they have so much common material, the first three gospels are termed the Synoptic Gospels. The word "synoptic" comes from two Greek words syn- , "together" and opsesthai , "to see". It means "presenting or taking the same or common view. Scholars have hypothesized, rightly, I believe, that the writers of the Synoptic Gospels must have had some common source document available to them that contained the stories and teachings of Jesus, some kind of proto-gospel.
Scholars have a name for this hypothetical source; they call it Q, which stands for the German word Quelle , meaning "source. The gospel writers, I assume, probably drew on Q and wove it together with their own eyewitness and other traditions to fashion an account of Jesus' life and teachings for their particular audience. Mark's gospel is commonly agreed to be the earliest gospel. Matthew's gospel seems to be written especially with Palestinian Jews in mind, and takes special care to point out Jesus' words and actions as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
Luke's gospel seems to speak to a Hellenistic audience. The Gospel of John, on the other hand, didn't seem to use this Q source at all. As an eyewitness, John wrote from his own mature perspective of what Jesus said and did and intended. This is how I understand the relationship between the gospels. But what do we make of instances where one gospel says something in one way and another says it in altogether different way?
Did Jesus really say both things? Or did the gospel writers take liberties with what he said and alter it to suit their own points of view, as some allege? Let's consider Jesus' mission, for a moment. He was an itinerant teacher, traveling up and down the land of Palestine, teaching in scores of towns and villages over a period of perhaps three years. If you've ever been on a speaking tour, you soon learn to refine and hone your main speech or series of speeches to a fine point. You learn what works and gets an audience response, and are sure to include those elements at the next stop on your tour.
But you also find, if you speak without a manuscript as Jesus surely did , that your core message gets expressed in various ways. Yes, you use many of the same illustrations, but with a particular audience you may emphasize a point that you don't develop with another audience. Your presentation may be similar, but never the same. And you continually find fresh ways to express your thoughts as your speak them.
Now, I don't mean to make Jesus out to be a speaker who played to the crowds or improved his message as he went along. His thoughts were unique and distinctive, and his words came from the Father for whom he spoke. But that doesn't mean that he spoke exactly the same words by rote in each town and hamlet.
His expression varied. Which is the original? Which best represents Jesus' actual words? Why, both, of course. If we limit Jesus' true expression to a single Q source, we don't allow for the full expression of a Teacher who taught on perhaps a thousand occasions in his ministry. I've doubtless oversimplified the Synoptic Problem. There are many unanswered questions. But my interest is in the words of Jesus that have come down to us in the New Testament canon, not trying to reconstruct some Q document that is not, and may never have been, in existence.
I want to concentrate on Jesus' words that we have before us, and seek to understand them as they are written in one of the gospels -- in the case of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew's Gospel. Since we have been treated to the Jesus Seminar. It has been made up of a group of liberal scholars who voted on each passage in the gospels concerning the relative probability that a particular passage was Jesus' own words, or the words of a later disciple or editor.
They voted with one of four colored beads. A red bead indicated that "Jesus surely said this. How did they determine authenticity? The criterion of dissimilarity from his Jewish historical situation and from the early church, was one. But that is a judge of distinctiveness, not of authenticity. Next, they assumed that Jesus' sayings must be regarded as inauthentic unless they can be proved authentic. A strange assumption, it seems: guilty until proven innocent.
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They also apparently used the hypothetical Q source which we don't have and the supposedly-early Gospel of Thomas which shows strong Gnostic influences and is probably second century as the standard by which a saying was considered authentic. Only a very few sayings and parables met the "red bead" standard. I've read enough of this sort of pseudo-scientific speculation to reject it as the refuse of unbelief. If you were to read the Sermon on the Mount out loud it might take you all of fifteen minutes. I find it hard to believe that Jesus uttered just these words for a fifteen minute sermon, had the choir sing a hymn, gave a benediction, and then sent people home.
I think what we have in the Sermon on the Mount is some kind of synopsis of Jesus' teaching on a particular occasion, or perhaps of his core teaching.
I believe that when these words were spoken, they were amplified with stories and parables suited to the audience. Were these Jesus' actual words? Yes, I believe so. They weren't all that he said on this occasion, but I believe that he did say these things. Of course, Jesus taught in Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew. The words as we have them are Greek, and finally we read them in an English translation of the Greek. While we may lose something in the translation, I believe that the text that we have is trustworthy and powerful -- even in English!
The text of Matthew seems to be a single literary unit, intended for us to understand as a teaching that begins with Jesus sitting down before the crowds on the mountainside in , and ending with Jesus finishing, leaving the listeners amazed at the boldness and authority of his words in But did Jesus actually speak all of these things at a single sitting? Acts of ablutions I performed over my life to wash away the pain as like a worshipper before the act of prayer washing away the dust of life.
Now I turn inwards, lift my gaze upwards from there, higher, where all the sacred places are within reach. In search of a new Life. A new place of peace where heaven and earth meet. There we may write upon the scroll, if permitted, to be unfurled as witness. It is at that point I wish to reside awake, asleep, upright or upon my side. The flute returned to the reed bed.
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Lay me there to rest innerly waiting to depart I ask the Lord of All Being. You will remember me as I you and that will be the final Act of Peace unspoken. Let us not be hypnotised by shadows and look instead for Reality. For there is peace in abundance even at this late hour and setting sun of our lives. Peace to be had in solitude. In the sound of silence. Let us pilgrimage there innerly, silently, in prayer, in tears, in meditation, in love , in remembrance. The life was what it was, a shadow, yet purposeful.
It was during my travels in Colorado, Arizona and Utah that I was for the first time exposed to the mysteries of the Native American spirituality. I was then enabled to feel more vividly the reality of a spiritual universe which the Native American experienced all around him. For him things seen were as much mysterious as things unseen.
Perception of the ordinary was mingled with visions from the beyond. Hence, he could pass from this world to the next with great ease. Death rested light like an eagle feather upon his mind, and life, all life, was a trail of a world that was ceaselessly passing into spirit. The Native American would withdraw for days in complete loneliness, abstaining from all food and drink, waiting to receive a vision. He was not the maker of visions.
He was just a recipient. All his preparation was to purify himself and to turn himself into a clean and empty cup into which a vision could be poured from above. It appears we have lost the capacity to prepare for such an undertaking.
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We have even corrupted the very word, vision, at times beyond recovery. Our visions end up in ideologies, repressive regimes, and lead up to deeper enslavement of the human spirit.
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We create nightmares out of our visions. Look at the fate of great ideas in religions as well as the secular life of the so-called advanced cultures. We no longer believe in the native, in the inherent and in the inalienable capacity in each one of us to aspire to a vision, strictly personal and yet of extraordinary significance for our relations with others.
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We try with all the strength at our disposal to abolish from within our educational system every possibility of a visionary perspective. Our education rests on a systematic emptying of such subjective resources. We end up as slaves of an anonymous body of knowledge with which we do not have any personal relationship whatsoever. Most of us experience total exhaustion and emptiness at the end of our academic career. There remains no possibility of our intellectual discipline and all the effort that goes with it leading to a deeply felt experience of the knowledge we have tried so hard to gather.
We could have made our classroom a pathway to personal experience, our teaching an aid to expect a vision at the end of our intellectual journey. Once upon a time it was so easy, so natural. The teaching then was interwoven with a visionary preparation.
We now, on the contrary, move from procedure to procedure, from methodology to methodology, from one school of thought to another. We erect insurmountable barriers between our native spontaneity as seekers of visions and our consciously acquired knowledge. We have lost the unspeakable art of forming a unity of both, wherein a rigorous intellectual discipline brings the scholar to that threshold where a vision bursts upon him with both suddenness and peace, when he as a thinker is turned in to a seer.
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There are still a few teachers amidst us whose words invoke in us not only great meanings but also great vision. There comes a moment in our lives when a word becomes a vision, and a vision becomes a word, a living word. By accompanying the act of inhaling with attention one touches the fringe of the life of the idea, its universal power and joy. First however is the breath of purification, of burning away all that is dense and hard, all that is alien.
Second is the breath of returning from the outer limits, from the six directions of front and behind, right and left, above and below, it is a breath of returning to the seventh point, the centre within. The centre is also the sphere; as a centre it is eternity, and as a sphere it is infinity. If one feels physically and psychologically healthy, that is a very minor reward. The relation of the exercise to the life of this world consists in ingathering the positive and helpful forces. The rest, its greater part, lies above consciousness, above the imaging faculty.
However, valuable, whatever be the authority on which they rest, all techniques of self-development in their elaborate rules and details, without the simplicity and willingness to surrender before the Great Work that goes on above our knowledge, are a burden keeping the novice under one illusion after another. Remember how one sows the seed, and hides it, and waits in trust. LOVE: A question, an idea, a goal, one of those elusive things that has pre-occupied humanity constantly. Never failing and all Embracing.
Crossing all categories of identification and limit. The individual Soul and above it the Universal Soul. Yearning to be whole, to be complete, to come to a rest after much wandering. It is love within the Soul that drives it, nay, compels it to yearn and long for its Source, once it realizes it has a Source, if it realizes it has a Source. Say One! The ship of the seas is no use now.
The journey is of another kind. What gift can I bring to the Giver of all gifts? No gift will suffice except my very Being, my Soul. It is forgotten that this ayat verse is more about the Soul than anything else. What more drop of love can I add to the Source of Love itself? I give up the image and turn to the Original. Where Love is complete, simple, a Unity of all unities. And after such purification there is perhaps only one thing to do. As the bride waits for the arrival of the bridegroom, an image well illustrated within the Indian custom as among others.
And for that invitation, for that recognition, one would wait an eternity if one had to. For there is no other to turn to. Ah, but what to speak of Beauty at this stage, All is Beautiful. It drew me from the First and draws me to the Last.