The Best and Worst from the Sermon on the Mount
Recently I've been thinking about the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7 and pars in Lk 6:12,20-49; 11:1-4,9-13,33-36; 12:22-34,57-59; 13:23-24), reflecting on the wisdom of these received teachings. Some offer more than others. Anyway, here are my favorite five from this block of material, followed by my least favorite.
Best teachings from the sermon
1. The Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:9-13/Lk 11:2-4). My favorite part of the sermon. You don't have to be a Christian (anymore than Jesus was), or even an apocalyptic, to be inspired by the vision of abundance for all, erasure of debt, and a utopian "heaven on earth".
2. Hypocrisy (Mt 7:1-5/Lk 6:37-38,41-42). Though I wince at the anachronism, Jesus understood the phenomenon of projection all too well -- that people attribute their own bad qualities to others. People do it without realizing it.
3. Retaliation (Mt 5:38-39/Lk 6:29). Originally intended as a survival strategy for itinerants -- Jesus literally meant to turn the other cheek and relinquish clothing to assailants -- the spirit of this dictum as we’ve come to know it remains timelessly valuable, especially in a world where people seem to live by, "An eye for an eye, with a rock through the head as well."
4. Treasures in Heaven (Mt 6:19-21). I guess I have to like this one, since I'm a relatively poor public servant, with a worthless blog to boot. (See Jim West's recent update of the monetary values of the biblioblogs.)
5. Love Enemies (Mt 5:43-44/Lk 6:27-28). It sounds trite and Sunday-schoolish, but it's a wise thing to strive for -- and probably the hardest of the sermon's commandments to follow.
Worst teaching from the sermon
* The Golden Rule (Mt 7:12/Lk 6:31). One of the worst sayings from the New Testament, let alone the sermon. Intuitively it makes sense, saying in effect, "put yourself in someone else's shoes -- how would you feel?" But the fact is that other people do not necessarily want to be treated as "you" do. It's a rather obvious point and a bit embarrassing to have to point out.
Instead of "do unto others as you would want done to you", let’s try instead, "do unto others as they would want done to them." Communication and personality specialists, more than anyone, have suggested this alternative to the Golden Rule, calling it The Platinum Rule. The rule demands more of us, of course, because we're not at liberty to project ourselves and simply assume that others think and feel as "I" do.