May 13, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: What he taught (II)

See Matthew 5:1-7:29, Luke 6:20-49

This week, I’m continuing my thoughts about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I could, of course, write a dozen or more columns about it since there’s so much in it. When you read those three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, surely you’ll have thoughts of your own.

Jesus set an exacting standard for us at the end of his teachings about anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love of enemies. It is nothing less than “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He then went on to teach us how to pray the Our Father—what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the fundamental Christian prayer.” Some of the Doctors of the Church have had even more powerful words to say about it. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, called it “the most perfect of prayers” because “in it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.”

St. Augustine wrote: “Run though all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.”

At the end of the prayer, Jesus is emphatic when he tells his followers, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Jesus neatly summed up his teachings about our relationship with others in what we know as the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” For his Jewish listeners, this was new. Oh yes, their Scriptures said something similar, but negatively. The Book of Tobit, for example, admonishes, “Do to no one what you yourself dislike” (Tb 4:15). How different it sounds when expressed positively.

Jesus also made it plain that by ­“others” he meant everyone—not only “those who love you” but also our enemies: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This had to have special meaning for the persecuted Christians of the latter part of the first century who first read Matthew’s Gospel.

He also told his listeners plainly how to get to heaven: It will be “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

At the end of Jesus’ sermon, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.” Perhaps this was most evident when, in (Mt 7:24), he referred to all these teachings as “these words of mine.”

Besides being astonished, we have to think that some of his listeners might have reacted negatively to being told to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek to be slapped. But perhaps they slowly got the message that love of God and neighbor must be demonstrated by our deeds. †


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