I was a bit surprised to find that the editors of the plan I’m following for these readings had split up the Sermon on the Mount, and more surprised today to find its last chapter combined with the (very full and active!) chapter that follows. But reading them together has been helpful.
Because the Sermon is such a clear block of teaching we do tend to treat it in some isolation – and reading it as a whole might help to keep things that way. But its last sections have a focus on taking Jesus’ words out into action in the world – above all with the story of the two builders. If we don’t actually do anything about what we read, it doesn’t help us at all.
There’s a bit of an overall shift of emphasis in chapter 7 from chapter 6 – a bit like the move between the first four and the last six commandments, a foundation of relationship to God is followed by teaching on how to relate to others while trusting God. Verses 7-11 remind us to live in the power of God’s spirit, and v.12 sums up a lot in a few words.
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
It’s a simple rule. That doesn’t make it an easy one to live by. And it makes the warning of v21-23 very relevant. If we confine discipleship to following a list of ‘thou shalt not’s then we know quite easily how we’re doing. But the challenge to do everything as we would be done to is a bit easier to kid ourselves on if we don’t keep looking at ourselves with God’s eyes.
‘When Jesus had come down from the mountain’ (8:1) is a verse that seems to carry many echoes. First to my mind are the moments after the Transfiguration and after Moses received the commandments on Mt Sinai – in those moments and here a ‘high point’ where all seems clear and revelation is given is followed by coming back down into the mess of everyday life and pressure. As Jesus has just been teaching, it’s when inspiration and revelation meet daily reality that God does his work through us.
And here in chapter 8 Jesus meets the pressures of the world in many ways – healing illness, casting out unclean spirits and stilling a storm. Life throws all sorts at us. When we build our lives on the foundation of God and his word, then at least one thing will be stable.