Thursday, February 24, 2011
What happened on the hillside
I imagine a sunny but rather cool day, possibly early spring.
It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: he has been baptized; he has spent 40 days in the wilderness and then been tempted; he begins to preach in Galilee; he has called four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John; and he has healed the sick. Large crowds, some from as far away as Jerusalem, are following him to hear him speak.
Then something interesting happens, as Matthew tells the story. Jesus sees the crowds, and he goes up a mountainside and sits. His disciples come to him, and he begins to teach “them.” The implication is that the “them” is the disciples.
If that’s correct, then he sees the large crowds – and begins to teach the disciples with one of the most important sermons imaginable. But the crowds also hear him, because at the end of sermon the text says the crowds were “amazed” at his teaching, “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” It was a message for his disciples that spilled over on to the multitudes.
And what did he teach?
The Sermon on the Mount is shot through with the idea of forgiveness, both implicitly and explicitly.
Blessed are the merciful.
First go and be reconciled to your brother.
If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Let him have your cloak as well.
Go with him two miles.
Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
There on that mountainside, Jesus speaks one of the most radical sermons ever preached. It is also a sermon he will live out as a ministry, a ministry of forgiveness and salvation, until it culminates on the side of another mount and in a tomb carved into rock and dirt.
To see other posts on forgiveness, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.
Photograph: The traditional site of the Mount of Beatitudes, from Bible Places.