Here’s an important question that has challenged Christians for two thousand years. Bluntly stated, the question is, Can the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter the Sermon) in Matthew 5-7 really be lived out? Is it actually possible for followers of Jesus to “turn the other cheek,” “love their enemies,” and “pray for those who persecute them”? A second century objector to Christianity argued that “… the precepts in what you call your Gospel are so marvelous and great that I don’t think that anyone could possibly keep them.”
Even within the Christian community, there have been attempts to moderate these rigorous teachings of Jesus. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the masses lived by the commandments necessary for salvation but that those who chose the way of greater merit followed the “counsels of perfection.” This view sees Jesus’ difficult teachings in the Sermon and elsewhere as being extra-special instruction that places greater demands upon church leaders and spiritually serious Christians. In Lutheran theology, the high demands of the Sermon are seen as being primarily intended to convict people of their sin and drive them to the unmerited grace and mercy of God. In the Anabaptist tradition, many believers withdrew from direct participation in socio-political structures that could compromise the principles of the Sermon.
So can this Sermon really be lived out? I believe that to the degree that we live out the teachings of Christ, even the ones that we find very difficult, we make visible and participate in his kingdom reign on earth. Whenever we refuse to return violence for violence, we embody God’s kingdom reign. Whenever we refuse to look at others lustfully, we are the light of the world. Whenever we give to the one who begs from us, we are the salt of the earth. Whenever we say “no” to laying up for ourselves treasure on earth, we are allowing God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
These are certainly not easy teachings to consistently live out. But if we call Jesus “Lord, Lord,” this is his way and we have been called to walk in it. Jesus said that those who hear his words and do them are like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. May we so build our lives.