Matthew Theology Sermon Notes
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Matthew Theology Sermon Revision
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Gospels and Jesus Ulrich Luz : The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew MATT H E W 5 : 1 - 7 : 2 9 - S E R M O N O N T H E M O U N T Matthew exists of 5 main discourses (5-7 / 10 / 13 /18 / 23-25). The Sermon on the Mount is the first and lengthiest, presenting a first and main example of ethical teaching of Jesus. It is clearly a compilation of Jesus' sayings rather than a single occasion. Who is the Sermon on the Mount intended for?
Is the Sermon a new ethic for the world or is it an ethic solely for the community, intended to be practiced by Christians alone and not, as Martin Luther held, by persons holding secular office? One cause is likely to be found in the backdrop against which Matthew set the Sermon on the Mount : Jesus climbs to the top of the mountain 'when he saw the crowds' (5:1). Why? To escape or the better to be understood by them? The disciples gather around him what he teaches is intended for them. But the crowds listen as well. At the end of the Sermon, Matthew consciously adopts turns of phrase from Mark 1:22 and writes 'The people were astounded at his teaching, for unlike their own teachers he taught with authority' (7:28). Viewed diagrammatically, this conjures up the image of a double circle of listeners. At the end of the Gospel, it is the disciples who are told to transmit to the Gentiles 'all that I have commanded you' (28:20). These final words refer primarily to the Sermon on the Mount.
- The Sermon is the heart of the Great Commission to teach the Gentiles. In this respect, it is precisely not intended to be limited to the inside of the Church. The disciples have special emphasis on them attending to the Sermon as they are the first person to enact the Sermon.
- The Sermon is an ethic for the disciples only insofar as, for Matthew, the sole difference between disciples and non-disciples that matter is the difference in their deeds. On the Day of Judgment, the tree will be judged by its fruit. The Sermon on the Mount is not the internal ethic of a sect whose members behave differently toward the inside and outside worlds. Very rarely do the verses of the Sermon presuppose the special conditions of the Matthean Community :
- The Lord's Prayer is a prayer is for the whole of humanity.
- The admonitions in 6:2-18 do not contrast the behaviour of hypocrites in the synagogues with that of another community at a difference place of Worship.
- The Antithesis in 5:21-48 take up the Ten Commandments
- The Golden Rule concluded the main section of the Sermon in 7:12, and generalises the Commandments and elevates them to a universal plane. It unites the Law and the Prophets - the foundations of Israel, into a principle of behaviour that is universal and intelligible to all. The Sermon is not intended to describe 'the way things were'- rather, the main truth is the preaching as it applies to the present. It supplies the content of the mission to be proclaimed to the world and a guiding principle by which that community is to measure its own works. The Sermon does not recount an episode from the historical past. It is spoken to the winds. In this respect it resembles the Pentateuch. Moses speaks from Sinai to the Israelites of the 8th Century BC, his words leading over the gap of centuries. 1 of 17
The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount Two questions that dominate discussion :
1. The question of its fulfil-ability. Is it capable of being fulfilled, or is it so remote from reality that human beings are destined to falter?
1. The answer given since the High Middle Ages is that some of its demands were meant to be understood as evangelical counsels. Rather than being directed at all Christians they figured as guidelines to be followed by clergymen and monks. The theologians of the Reformation made a distinction between the two realms of community and world.
2. In the worldly realm, Christians who exercised an office as politicians / parents / soldiers etc were given dispensation not to live in accordance with the Sermon, but were obligated to have love function indirectly as the measure of their lives. Behind all the efforts lay a firm belief that the Sermon cannot be fulfilled if taken literally. In today's discussions of the Sermon, its non-fulfil-ability and absoluteness are criticised.
2. The other question is that of mercy. It is bound up with the realisation that the Sermon poses excessive demands on mankind, and at the same time, points up the Protestant critique of those excesses. Is the Sermon devoid of grace and mercy, seemingly asking the impossible of men and women and yet subjecting them at the end of time to the Last Judgment? What has become of Paul's notion that mankind is justified through grace alone?
This question has been sharpened by recent discoveries in redaction criticism. It was discovered that Matthean Beatitudes in 5:3-10, unlike the original Jesuanic Beatitudes shift the emphasis away from the comfort of salvation for those in need. Jesus' principle object was to proclaim that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor. Matthew altered this emphasis : the poor have become the poor in spirit, the hungry become those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Exegetes debate how far the emphasis has been shifted toward the ethical. They ask whether the phrase 'poor in spirit' really does mean the humble or whether 'hunger for thirst and righteousness' also connotes an active involvement on behalf of righteousness.
- The shift in Matthew is undeniable : men and women are blessed for the sake of a particular stance, or even a particular action.
- Does Matthew mean that those persons are blessed who strive to make their righteousness superior to that of the Pharisees and Scribes? And are those condemned whose fruits are deemed insignificant One response is the Protestant thesis that the purpose of the Sermon lay principally in making human beings conscious of their sinfulness. Another response are the many exegetical attempts to reinterpret the Sermon in Pauline terms. The structure of the Sermon has been used to answer questions. It is positioned very carefully in the Gospel. It is part of his Jesus narrative, the story of Immanuel, in the presences of God. It is not accidental but intentional that the evangelist incorporates these ethical proclamations into a story of God's action with his people just as in the Pentateuch, the appearance of the Deity on Mount Sinai is incorporated into the story of God leading his people out of Egypt.
- From chapters 1 and 2 onward, Matthew wrote a new story of a new Moses.
- The ascent of and describe from the mountain in 5:1 and 8:1 are doubtless meant to recall Exodus 19 & 34. The Sermon is not an abstract command, it is the command of that same God who accompanies his people. 2 of 17
In its structure, the Sermon itself is a literary work of art. It is bracketed by a selection from the Sayings Source, the Sermon on the Plain. For the Antitheses, and perhaps also for 6:2-18, Matthew possessed another written source into which he collated additional material. M A P O F T H E S E R M ON The Sermon falls into the Three Sections :
1. Preamble : 5:3-16
2. Main Section : 5:17-7:12
1. Antithesis : 5:21-48
2. Central Text : 6:1-18
1. The Lord's Prayer : 6:9-13
3. Epilogue : 6:19-711
3. Conclusion : 7:13-27 The question of outward righteousness - what must I do? - is taken up in the antitheses. They are immediately followed by a section dealing with mankind's relation to God - the inward religious dimension of righteousness. The practice of righteousness then leads to prayer - directed toward a Father who always knows and hears the pleas of his Children. That is, it may be seen as built round the Father-Son relationship and obedience to the Father's will. The epilogue is similarly structured. It opens with the topic of superior righteousness - the relation of Jesus' disciples to worldly possessions (6:19-34) - only to end once again in prayer. It is impossible to reduce the Sermon to its ethical core - the Antitheses - and to act as if an understanding of them alone suffices for an understanding of the entire Sermons. Rather, the problem is to interpret the Sermon as a holistic entity. The entire Sermon on the Mount is a proclamation of the will of God to men and women who are children, and who are permitted to pray to their Father because he is near to them and hears them. It in not simply a promise of salvation, nor does it merely pose demands.
- It represents a continuing relation, confronting those men and women with whom God is prepared to walk with the demands he imposes upon them. Because of those demands, it leads them to a sense of promise from that very God who dwells among human beings before they dwell with him.
- Precisely because of those demands, it leads them to a sense of promise from that very God. One might say the Sermon is primarily concerned with the prayer of active men and women, or that its central thrust is the justification by grace alone of those who strive for righteousness. Something similar is reflected in Matthew's understand of the Lord's prayer (6:9-13). He probably inserted this into his Gospel as it was spoken in his community. The important thing to note is that it is, to a high degree, the prayer of active men and women, a prayer that includes the actions of human beings and virtually makes those actions its content. Without mankind's obedience to the will of God it is no more conceivable that his 'will be done' than that his name be hallowed.
- The please for forgiveness even incorporates human action explicitly into the prayer. It also encompasses man's responsibility. It is a prayer of active and obedient men not of those who let their hands rest in their laps and direct their gaze humbly upward.
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The will of God is the will of the Father; his demand is the demand of him who is with us. The question of the Sermon's fulfil-ability shows signs of receiving an answer. Humans are not left to their own devices in their striving for superior righteousness. They are sustained by God - permitted to pray. This is clue is not sufficient in itself to answer whether or not it can be fulfilled. THE WILL OF GOD:ANTITHESIS & RULES OF PIETY (5:17-6:18) The commandments given in the Antitheses are concrete and extreme in their demands. There are no limits set to the divine will : Even the mildest terms of abuse against one's 'brother' are prohibited (5:21-22). The probation of resistance to evil (5:39a) excludes no areas from its sphere of validity ; the three explanatory examples cover interpersonal relations (5:39b), legal responsibilities (5:40) and obligations to the occupying forces (5:41).
- These examples, which probably originated with Jesus himself, are worded so radically they they seem to permit no forms of peaceful violence : No rebuke for the person who strikes the blow. The commands are concrete. There is no leeway for interpretation in the prohibition of oaths. These were, obviously, meant to be followed literally otherwise Matthew would not have added the proviso 'except in the case of unchastity' to the prohibition against divorce : Something that reflected the customs of his community. The view that these commandments are somewhat excessive has arisen. The is reinforced by the conclusion of the series of Antitheses in Verse 48 : 'Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect'. Protestant exegetes consign the perfection Matthew speaks of to man's inner nature with a reference to holistic and undivided obedience. As 19:21 /
5:20 imply, the point at issue is complete obedience to the will of Gd and to all his commandments. The righteousness of the Matthean community must be superior to that of the Pharisees and Scribes. There is a sense of quantity involved. Is the point that the members of the community have a certain quota of righteousness to fulfil, on the basis of which the Son of Man and Judge of the world will grant them entry to the kingdom of Heaven. Several observations can be made to counteract this picture : Firstly, for Matthew, love is the foremost commandment, and hence the guiding precept by which Jesus' other commandments are to be interpreted. Love is the commandment on which the whole of the Torah hinges. In the Antithesis he made his view explicit by his choice of placement. The series ends with the commandment to love one's enemy, the sixth Antithesis. But it also begin in the first Antithesis with that same commandment. By adding the injunction to reconcile oneself with one's enemy before coming to trial, Matthew made it clear that the brother of the first Antithesis - the man who must not suffer even the mildest abuse - is intended in the same sense.
- The persecutors for whom the disciples are to pray are, of course, the enemies of the community, and thus in Matthew's case, the Jews. It was under their hostility that the missionaries of Jesus were made to suffer. How does the commandment to love one's enemy relate to the remaining commandments? Matthew did not reflect systematically upon these questions. He was presumably of the opinion that the love commandment was supreme, that if a conflict should arise among the commandments all the rest should be subordinated to that of love. The love commandment was the crown of the commandments. He probably felt that the laws of ritual / purity / tithing /
sacrifice / sabbath remained operative but should be made subordinate to the more significant commandment of love.
- The righteousness demanded by God has a midpoint. When viewed from the midpoint, God's will is seen to be intelligible. The midpoint also grants men and women obedient to Jesus a certain leeway within which to form their own interpretations and to act in keeping with a given situation. Seen in this light, the commands are not simply heteronomous norms. It must be admitted that Matthew only began to foresee the conflicts that might arise between the most significant commandment of the Torah - the commandment of love - and the others. Our experiences with history have shown 4 of 17
that the love commandment can not only stand in conflict with religious commandments such as sacrifice / purity /
sabbath but with ethical commandments as well. It can conflict the Old Testament strictures on oaths / divorce etc and can fail to coincide with those commandments that are unique to Jesus - the rejection of oaths / ban on divorce. A second clue in this respect is the exemplarity of the Matthean commandments. Jesus' commandments very often took the form of generalised propositions, which then had to be made concrete by his listeners themselves, or of examples, for which his listeners were called upon to find analogies in their own lives. In Matthew's Gospel, the three proverbs of non-violence (5:39-41) are explicitly made to serve as examples of a generalised form of behaviour - non-resistance to evil (5:39a). Similarly, the three instructions of almsgiving / prayer /
fasting (6:2-18) become examples of righteousness practiced in secret. The Antithesis as a whole serve as examples of love and the commandments in the central section of the Sermon become examples of active behaviour motivated by love in consonance with the Golden Rule (7:12). This technique of ethics by example means that the individual commandments in the Sermon have fundamental vitality. They transcend themselves, governing all walks of existing and serving as a guide for life in its entirety. The Golden Rule impart an elemental and universal character to all the commandments. The commandments of the Sermon offer a guide as how the Golden Rule should be construed. Together, both ensure the ethical freedom of Jesus' disciples vis-a-vis God's will : what 'love your enemy' means, what 'do as you would have others do to you' means, cannot be set down normatively but only in the concrete experiences of one's own life.
- It is this concreteness that makes the commandments in the Sermon humane, transferring their upholders into truly free individuals rather than imposing excessive demands upon them. A third point of important to Matthew's understanding of the Sermon is the idea of the path of righteousness (21:32). We first encounter this idea in 5:20 in the phrase 'superior righteousness' - a phrase which suggests an attitudes of 'works'. For the Matthean community there is only a path to perfection. Not everyone will attain perfection in the sense required by the Sermon and not everyone will become a follower of Jesus in the sense that they will sell their possession etc. Verses 10:40-42 make clear that the community of those who remain at home, practicing hostility, clothing missionaries etc.
- One should travel this path as far as possible. On the Day of Judgment the Son of Man will show just where the minimum righteousness less that is necessary for entrance to Heaven. In order to travel this path, the Matthean Jesus makes use primarily of exhortation rather than laws. The Sermon contains examples / pictorial hyperboles
/ metaphorical imperatives to goat its reader into motion. But it does not set down laws. Matthew is fully aware that Jesus is the ultimate and immediate arbiter for interpreting the will of God. He speaks with authority, not like the scribes. He is the sole teacher. On the other hand, Matthew is inspired by a basic conviction that Jesus, far from revoking the Torah and the prophets, himself presents its culmination. He fulfils them, satisfying their commandments in every respect and teaching them accordingly.
- Matthew himself and his community represent the true Israel. For this reason, he had to raise a fundamental claim to the legacy of Israel, including its Law, and to insist with polemical urgency to the Israelite majority, led by the Pharisees and dismiss of Jesus, that it was Jesus who fulfilled the Torah and the prophets.
- 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfil' (5:17). This sentence contains both Jesus' obligations to the heritage of Israel and his fundamental sovereignty which allows him to determine what the meaning of that heritage is.
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