The Sermon on the Mount
Hypothesis: The sermon on the mount can be considered a description of the covenant between the faithful and God through the life and ministry of Jesus.
Salt and Light (Matt. 5:13-16): an implication of community
1. What part of the community’s relationship with God and itself do you think Jesus commenting on in this section?
2. What were the uses of salt in Jesus’ time? How might these uses be a metaphor for Jesus’ followers’ responsibility to their community?
3. Verse 13 could literally be translated as, “if salt becomes weakened, by what means will it become salty? It no longer has the strength for anything, except, being thrown out, to be trodden over by men.” How might this literal translation effect your understanding of the text?
4. What qualities do you think Jesus was asking his followers to exhibit, in light of the imagery of salt and light?
5. How might we exhibit the qualities of salt and light to the world?
Teaching about the Law (Matt. 5:17-20)
1. What might lead Jesus to state that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it? How might the context of Matthew’s community influence this proclamation?
2. What law do you think Jesus is talking about? Why might it be important for the [Mosaic] law to continue, even with the coming of Jesus?
3. In verse 20, Jesus talks about the righteousness and compares a true believer’s righteousness to the righteousness of the Pharisees. What do you think Jesus is commenting on with regard to the Pharisees’ righteousness?
4. How might Jesus’ coming to earth “fulfill the law”?
5. What do you think Jesus is talking about when he says the law must stand until “everything is accomplished”? How does the law serve the accomplishment of God’s plan and Jesus’ mission on earth?
6. How might we “practice and teach” the law?
7. How might we gain “exceeding righteousness”?
Perfection (Matt. 5:21-37)
1. While in six separate passages, why might this passage be entitled “perfection”?
2. In each of the six passages, it appears there is no gray area in Jesus’ teaching: either you are a “murderer” or you’re not; you hold a grudge or you don’t; you let anger rule or you don’t; etc. Do you think Jesus it trying to describe a life in community as polar opposites? Why or why not?
3. What was radical in Jesus’ time regarding his teaching about divorce, about adultery, and about anger?
4. Why might it be important to not swear by anything as a pledge (as commented on in vv. 33-37)? Why should a simple “yes” or “no” be sufficient when responding to another in pledge?
5. If you were going to summarize these verses, how might you sum them up? How is Jesus asking his followers to act in community? How are these actions different than the status quo?
6. How might Jesus’ description of “perfection” serve as a model for how we are supposed to live in a society that is not wholly committed to the same ethos?
Revenge and Love for Enemies (Matt. 5:38-48)
1. How might these passages be the genesis of Christian pacificism (like the Quakers) and the non-violent resistance movement?
2. Do you think Jesus is asking his followers to cede their rights to others?
3. Do you think Jesus was simply proclaiming a survival strategy in a world where Rome had the final say on life and death and the possession of property? Or do you think Jesus was providing a different ethos to live by while working in the society he lived in?
4. If Jesus proclaimed, “turn the other cheek”, how can Christians claim a “Just War theory”? Do you think Jesus commentary is a personal teaching (for the individual) or a communal (for the state) one?
5. How can we reconcile the teaching of non-resistance and love for neighbor with the community’s responsibility for justice and security?
6. What challenges can be found when there are competing ethos: non-resistance vs. “might makes right”?
7. Do you think these passages compel Christians to not be in the military or in police forces? Why or why not?