The Sermon on the Mount (Part 2)
March 15, 2008 Length: 64:13Part 2 of a talk given at a Lenten retreat on March 15, 2008 at the St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church in Lackawanna, NY
What we’re going to do now is continue, line by line, through the Sermon. And I will just make very selective comments, obviously. They will hopefully be things that would be pertinent and interesting. We said that the actual Sermon is a systematic teaching of Christ’s interpretation of the Law of Moses. And here, what we see in the entire Gospel is that Jesus is the authoritative teacher and interpreter of the Law of God.
However, also in the Gospels, He is the content of that Law. It’s about Him. And we would say that every word of the Bible, from the first line of Genesis, is about Christ. It’s all about Christ. The Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets are about Him. Moses spoke of Him. Isaiah saw His day. And that’s how we Orthodox read the Old Testament. We read it through the light of Christ.
But He’s also the fulfiller; the protector of the Law. The Law is fulfilled in His Person. He’s the only one who does it and does it properly. And then, He, of course, in fulfilling the Law, interprets it. He is the interpreter of the Law of God for us. And He is both the Teacher and the Word Himself, as St. John will say in his Gospel.
The Sermon on the Mount though is primarily directed to His disciples; how they are supposed to be; how those who believe in Him how they are supposed to be; that if they accept the fact that He is the Christ; that He is the Lord; and that He is God’s Son literally, then this is how they are to behave. This is how they are to act.
Tonight, at the Antiochian Church, we’re going to kick off their series about the Creed. Well, the fundamental Christian Creed is Jesus Christ. That’s the Creed. Jesus is the Christ. In other words, Jesus, meaning Victor or Savior, is Messiah. Christos means Messiah; Anointed. So that’s the fundamental Christian Creed. I believe that Jesus is the Christ. Then, in Matthew, you have the added words in the center of the Gospel, “The Son of God,” not a son of God, but The Son of God.
That’s the fundamental Christian Creed – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And then he’s confessed as Kyrios, Lord, which in the Hebrew Bible is the Divine Name. When the Tetragrammaton was written, the name that God gave to Moses, they said, “The Lord.” So that’s the Christian Creed. Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Lord, and everything else comes from the that. The doctrine of the Trinity, and everything comes from that confession.
So this Sermon on the Mount is for people who believe that. And we’ll see as we go through it, it’s the Law for the people who believe that. If you’re baptized; if you’ve died with Christ in baptism; you’re risen with Christ; you’re sealed by His Spirit; you’re branded by His name; you eat and drink His Body and Blood, at least every Lord’s Day of your life until you die, this is how you’re supposed to be. And this is how you’re supposed to act.
We said this morning and ended by saying that those who belong to Jesus are poor in spirit. They mourn. They hunger and thirst for what is right. They show mercy to everyone without qualification or condition, like Christ Himself. They achieve the purity of heart by which God is seen, because God can only be seen by the pure of heart, and the purification of the heart is the whole purpose of the whole Christian faith.
They are peacemakers in Christ who brings the Shalom/Peace of God to the world; the peace of the coming kingdom. And therefore, they are also persecuted, reviled, slandered, ridiculed, and they suffer with Him. But they rejoice and are glad because they belong to the Kingdom of God.
Now, then it continues, and it speaks about these disciples again. And so Jesus says to them and to us, “You are the salt of the earth. If salt has lost its savor, how shall its saltiness be restored? It’s no longer good for anything, except for to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.”
Then, the next part says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a bushel. Instead they put it on a stand, so let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father, who is in Heaven.”
So, the disciples are told that they are salt and that they are light. Now, it’s interesting, when people think of salt, they usually think of salt as what you salt food with so that it tastes good. That’s not what’s meant here. What’s meant here is salt as a preservative. In the old days, they didn’t have refrigerators. So if they were keeping food, in order to store it, they would salt it, like you salt meat or you salt fish.
So it’s not simply salt. You are not the people who make things taste good, but “You are the salt of the earth,” means you are the ones who are preserving the earth. And if you are not preserving the earth, the earth is lost. It’s good for nothing but to be trodden under foot. So Christians are responsible for creation.
That’s what He saying. “If you belong to me, then creation is in your hands now. If you are members of the Kingdom of God, who believe in Christ and have the Holy Spirit and are baptized and belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, you exist in this world as the salt of the earth.” And you have to accept that, and that’s one of the callings of being a Christian.
You know, the Christians are called the people of God, both the laity and the clergy; the inheritance. We sing in Church, “You’re your people. Bless your clergy.” Actually, the whole body of Christ, not just ordained people, are both laity and clergy. What does that mean? That means that we live to intercede; to pray; to beg God on behalf of; and to offer thanksgiving and praise on behalf of the whole creation.
So when we go to church, we’re not just praying for ourselves. In fact, the Liturgy is not a prayer service at all. It’s the Christians going and uniting themselves to Christ by offering their own bodies as a living sacrifice to God, which is our spiritual worship. And we’re offering our body with Him; to have our body broken; our blood spilled.
We are the ones, allegedly, who are keeping the world going, because we’re invoking the grace of God upon creation and praying for the forgiveness of sins for everyone and everything, including our worst possible enemies. And that’s why we say at the Liturgy, “Thine own of your own, we offer to you.” That’s Christ Himself. “On behalf of all; through all; in all; for all.” And we’re standing on behalf of the whole creation.
So we’re like the new Levites. You know how the Levites in the Old Testament had no portion? Their portion was the Temple. Their portion was God. Well, that’s what Christians are. We have no portion in this world, but we have the Kingdom. And therefore, we are blessing the Kingdom; bringing the Kingdom; asking God to remember us when He comes in His Kingdom. And that’s why we’re the salt of the earth.
And therefore, we’re also light in the world. And Jesus says here that if your light is darkness, how terrible is that darkness we’re going to see? Now Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” but here He says, “You are the Light of the world.” And it’s so interesting, for Orthodox trivia, that this particular text is used when a bishop serves the Divine Liturgy.
If you go to a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the bishop comes into the church, and he’s not vested yet. They sing all the songs for him, and put on all his liturgical vestments. Then, they bring him his candles – the Trinity and the Incarnation. And then, when he blesses them for the first time, what does the deacon say? He says, “So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to the Father who is in Heaven.”
Now, they give glory to the Father who is in Heaven, not to you. We are supposed to be the light of the world, so that if people see us, they don’t glorify us, they glorify God, because God could produce such kind of people. It’s like a miracle that God could produce such kind of people who love everyone; who love without qualification; who love without condition; who are poor; who are mourning; who are meek; who are thirsting for what is right; who are merciful; who are pure in their heart; who are making peace; who stand persecution, ridicule, and reviling without reviling in return.
This is a phenomenon. But we should remember that this is what we’re called to be. And I always think of this during Lent. Because there’re some folks in this room, like this gentleman right here, who is a catechumen. Well, there’re prayers for the catechumens during Lent, because they’re supposed to be baptized at the end of Lent and have Holy Communion.
Well, there’re prayers, and there’s one prayer that I’d like to mention in this context, because I used to work at the seminary, as you know, and I used to love to watch new priests and new deacons serve. As Fr. Paul Aser, my best friend, used to say, “We don’t have worship. We have workshop.” You always have a new priest, a new deacon, a new reader, a new singer, and so on, and that’s all you’re doing all the time.
But at any case, there’s a prayer halfway during Lent. It’s added for the people who are to be baptized or to be received into communion. And you have this prayer that speaks about, “Let their eyes see what is right. Let their ears hear what is good. Let their hands do the work of God. Let their feet walk in the proper way. Preserve them from all evil.”
And then, it says in the prayer, “And make them honorable members of Thy,” and then almost always, the priest, who’s new, will start saying the word “Church.” Because when you think members, you think members of the Church, right? But it doesn’t say Church, it says, “Make them honorable members of Thy Christ.” And St. Paul says that in 1 Corinthians 6:
Do you not know you’re your body is for the Lord and the Lord is for your body? Do you know you’re your body is a temple of Spirit that you have from God? Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
So, we are Christ’s members in the world; the salt of the earth; the light of the world. That’s what Christians are supposed to be, and that’s the law of God in Christ that you find in the Sermon on the Mountain.
Then it continues, “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” So Christ is the fulfilling of everything that was written in the Old Testament. He doesn’t abolish it. He fulfills it. And in a sense, He abolishes it by fulfilling it. But He doesn’t abolish it.
Then, He says, “Truly I say to you.” Now I have to comment on that. In Greek, it’s Amen lego amen. Here it’s translated as truly. In the old King James, it was translated as verily. So sometimes, it would say, “Verily, verily.”
My next door neighbor in Warren, Ohio, where I was a priest for five years in the 1960s, had a little girl. And one day she was calling her little girl to come home, and she was going, “Verily, verily, come home.” I said, “Mrs. Brown, what’s your little girl’s name?” She said, “You don’t know, Reverend?” I said, “No, I don’t.” “Well, that’s in the Bible.” And she named her little girl, Verily.
But the point I want to make here is that in Greek, it’s Amen, and this is what scholars call an ipsisimum verbum Jesu. It’s an expression you find nowhere else ever anywhere, not in the Bible, not anywhere, except coming out of the mouth of Jesus. It’s when you begin a sentence by saying, “Amen,” because when a regular rabbi teaches, he has to teach and the hearer has to say Amen.
So if you begin teaching by saying “Amen, Amen, I say to you,” this means that this ain’t negotiable. This is not for your discussion. I don’t care about your Amen. I am saying Amen. Only God can do that. And so He says, “Amen, I say to you.” In other words, this is not a suggestion. This is not for debate. This is not food for thought. This is the Word of God.
So He says, “Truly, I say to you,” and that’s a peculiarly Jesus sentence. Even the Jesus seminar will say that. “Truly, I say to you,” and then it is, “I say to you,” He’s not a prophet saying, “This is the Word of God.” He said, “I’m saying this to you.”
And then He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Now here, the commenting word would be quickly. All is accomplished when He is crucified. That’s when all is accomplished. In the theological Gospel of St. John, the last word of Jesus from the Cross is one Greek word, Tetelestai, which means, “It is accomplished.”
It’s usually translated in English as, “It is finished,” so most people think He’s going to die, especially because it says, “He cried out, ‘It is finished,’ and He gave over His spirit.” But it doesn’t mean that He’s going to die. That word means it’s fulfilled. It’s accomplished. It’s perfected. There’s nothing else God can do at all. There is nothing more He can say; nothing more He can show; nothing more at all.
So, not one word of the Law passes away until it’s accomplished, but when He’s crucified, it’s all accomplished. Therefore, all the word is fulfilled in Him. It is fulfilled, and then when He dies, according to our Orthodox Liturgy, He rests from all His work. And that’s why in our Church, the blessed Sabbath Day is called, “The Great and Holy Seventh Day When God Rests From All His Work,” because His work is over when He dies on the cross.
In fact, St. Athanasius the Great said, “God created the world on the cross, because He could not create the world unless He would redeem the world.” So He creates the world, redeeming the world, through the same Christ by which He creates the world, through the same Christ He redeems the world. And it’s all fulfilled finally when He’s dead.
And that’s why on Great and Holy Saturday, we stand over His corpse. But He’s alive. He’s destroying death by being dead, and then He’s finishing all His work. And so that’s what we sing in Church on the Blessed Sabbath. So it says, “Until all is accomplished.” That accomplished is a very important word.
And it’s very interesting in that letter to the Hebrews, which I pushed in the sermon this morning, it speaks about all the righteous of the Old Testament not having been perfected without us. It speaks about Moses’ faith and all their faith. We read it all the time in Church. But it says in Hebrews, “Well attested by faith did not receive what was promised. God had foreseen something better for us; that apart from us, they should not be perfected.” They should not have everything reach perfection or fulfillment or accomplishment.
So that’s why He fulfills the Law, and by doing that, He saves Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the Prophets, who are all in Sheol; who are all dead until He comes and raises them. And go look at the beautiful fresco of Jesus pulling humanity and Adam and Eve out of the tombs when He’s dead; trampling down death by death. Then, it says:
Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So Jesus tells His disciples that unless you are exceeding the righteousness of all these holy people, you’re not saved, because then you’re not my disciple. If you’re not crucified with me, then you’re not my disciple. If you’re not crucified with me, you’re your baptism is a sham. You have been baptized unto condemnation. If you don’t die with me, your receiving my broken body and my spilled blood is unto condemnation.
Our body has to be broken. Our blood has to be spilled with Him so that all things can be accomplished. And there’s a text of St. Paul in Colossians that says, “I complete/perfect in my body what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.” Can you imagine such a sentence? I better not paraphrase it. I better read it literally, in the RSV literally anyway. I know how literal sometimes that is.
But he says, “I rejoice in my sufferings.” You see, you were supposed to rejoice in your sufferings in the Sermon on the Mount, right? So St. Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake in my flesh. I complete/perfect/fulfill what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is the Church, of which I became the servant according to the office given to me.”
And I once asked my professor, “How could St. Paul say such a thing that ‘I complete in my flesh what is lacking in the suffering of Christ, for the sake of His Church, which is His body? ’ What the heck is that?” I said, “I thought everything was totally done by Jesus on the Cross.”
And my professor said to me, “My dear, it is. Everything is perfected. When He died and said, ‘It is fulfilled, ’ it’s all done, except for one thing. It’s got to happen in you. And if it doesn’t happen in you, you’re not saved. You’ve got to die with Him. Otherwise, He’s died in vain.” So, this teaching is that’s how it surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, because it’s living as members of Christ, who are the light of the world and the salt of the earth by their activity as Christian disciples, as disciples of Christ.
Now here, another quick comment on the word church. Paul uses the expression church, the body, which is the Church. So when you become a member of Christ, you become a member of the Church. The Church is His body. It’s His body in this world, until He comes – broken and blood-spilled, until He comes.
But again, a little point, only Matthew uses the word church. It’s not in Mark, Luke, or John. And it’s at the center of the Gospel when Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus says, “On this confession, I will build my church, and the gates of Gell will not prevail against it.” The gates of Hades, Sheol, death cannot destroy it.
And then he uses it again in Chapter Eighteen, when He says, “If you’ve got something with someone, who is a member of the Church, and they don’t listen to you, you go to them privately.” You don’t go on YouTube and the Internet. You go privately. And then if it doesn’t work privately, then you bring two or three. If you don’t win them with two or three, then you bring them to the Church. You still are not on Internet by the way. You bring them to the Church.
And then it says, “If they don’t listen to the Church, then you treat them like tax collectors and publicans” But then John Chrysostom commenting on that says, “And how do you treat tax collectors and publicans?” He said, “If they’re hungry, you give them food. If they’re thirsty, you give them drink. If they’re naked, you give them clothes. If they’re homeless, you take them in.”
Philanthropy has no bounds, but participation in the Holy Sacraments does. You have to be a disciple and faithful and not crucifying Christ again. But when it comes to expressing the mercy and the love and the peace of God, you can have no discrimination whatsoever. In fact, the first person is the enemy that you have to try to bring the love of God to – the worst one you can think of.
And here, just another thing to point out, and that is this. It says, “And he who does these things and teaches them.” And the point is always made here that doing is first. Then teaching comes. It doesn’t say teach and do. It says, do and teach. And I can just tell you another little trivial stuff. In the Russian Tradition, priests who have a doctorate in theology wear a special cross. It’s like a blue-colored cross. I have one. I don’t have it here. I don’t wear it too much, but on the back of it, it has that verse.
This is the verse on the back of the doctor’s cross. It says, “Those who do and teach these things will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” And that’s why you have Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Macarius the Great, and Pope Gregory the Great. The saints who have the great are the ones who do and who teach, but doing is first, and the righteousness has to exceed that.
Then, you have a series, coming up next, where you have this particular formula, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, but I say to you. You heard that it has been said, and I say to you.” So here again, Christ is stressing His authority; speaking Himself; truly saying Amen to the people that this is the proper interpretation of everything.
And then He tells how this righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees. So you have these examples:
You heard that it was said that, ‘You shall do no murder, and anyone who does kill will be liable to the judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother,
And some variant readings say “without cause,” because there is a cause that you can be angry about. I’ll get to that in a minute.
shall be liable to judgment. Whoever insults, shall be liable to consul. Whoever says ‘Raca,’ or ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire.
So Jesus is saying, “If it’s written of old, ‘You shall do no murder,’ then I tell you that if you’re angry with someone, insult someone, and call them a name, you’re worse thana murderer, if you’re my disciple, because my disciples don’t do that.”
And by the way, I can’t resist saying this, but that’s why we Orthodox can sing the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. Sometimes, people think the penitential canon of St. Andrew of Crete that I just went through the last four days with the nuns. It was every single word. I did it myself, so if I look a little bit beaten up, that’s the reason why. I can’t even walk, because of the prostrations. We didn’t skip a word.
But sometimes, it can sound like overkill. It can sound like rhetoric, hyperbole, and stupidity. It’s almost like you’re lying. You say, “David was an adulterer and a murderer, but you O, my soul, have sinned more than he.” You say, “Get off it. I never killed anyone, and I didn’t commit adultery yet.”
But in any case, the answer of the Christian would be that if you follow the Sermon on the Mount, you’re going to see that if you are even angry with someone, you are a murderer; worse than David. He was a slimy king who didn’t know what he was doing. You’re a Christian. You have Holy Communion. You’ve died with Christ. You’ve received the Holy Spirit. If you just look at someone angry, it’s worse than David committing murder. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount says.
And we will see it says, “It was written of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman,” and nowadays, we have to add man because of the 20th Century, “lustfully has already committed adultery with her within his heart.” So just to be lustful, as a Christian, is worse than actually committing adultery for some Old Testament person. That’s what Jesus is doing here. And we have to take this seriously. This is what He says.
And it will go on. “It was written of old, ‘You should you’re your neighbor and you’re your enemy,’ but I say to you to give to those who ask,” and so on. So here you have this juxtaposition. But I wanted to mention just a bit about this “being angry,” because Jesus got angry and never sinned.
In fact, I mentioned already that this morning’s Gospel at the Liturgy was an occasion when it said, “He looked on them with anger, grieving.” So being angry is not a sin, and that’s probably why some early scribes stuck in “without cause,” because some texts say, “without cause.”
But Pemen in the Egyptian desert said, “What does it mean ‘without cause? ’ What kind of cause is it that you can be angry about?” And he said, “If the strike you, and you’re angry, that’s not without cause. You should not be angry. If they persecute you; if they slander you; if they insult you, and you’re angry, you’re a murderer.”
He then goes on to say, “However, if you are angry because they you’re your brother, and if you are angry because they separate people from God, because of their falsehood, then you can be angry, because that’s why Jesus was angry.” So there’s an anger of God, but the Holy Fathers say, “Don’t go trying to be that way. Try not to be angry at all, and then if it happens, God will decide if it’s without cause or with cause.”
Ungodly anger and ungodly grief are sins, but a true type of grieving and a true type of anger is possible. And so then he says that we cannot do these things. “Therefore, we must be reconciled with our brother, especially if we’re going to offer our gift.” And here, this text is applied in our Church to Holy Communion.
If you’re going to church and going to the Liturgy, and you’re going to offer the bread and wine, and you’re going to receive Holy Communion, and you know that anyone has anything against you, not just you against them, but them against you, you have to go and be reconciled with that person, or at least try to, before you come to Holy Communion. Otherwise, you can’t come.
And I can’t resist saying, how once when I was a young priest, a woman came to Confession. And in Russian churches, they always went to Confession before Communion, and they only went to Communion a couple of times a year in those days. But anyway, I asked her if she didn’t speak to someone and was angry, and they were angry with her. And she said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, there is.”
And I said, “Who is it?” And she said that it was her sister. And I said, “Well, before you come to Holy Communion, then you’ve got to try to make up. Did you try?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “Well, you have to at least try. You have to at least call her, go see her, or do whatever, and then you can come to Holy Communion.”
So she kind of mumbled. And I said, “No, you have to do this.” So then she said, “Do I have to do it today?” And I said, “Well, yeah.” And she said, “You mean, I can’t go to Holy Communion this morning?” It was a Saturday during Lent. I said, “No. Do it first; then come back. There’s a Divine Liturgy tomorrow. Come back tomorrow, but first, go and do it.”
And she goes, “Oh, alright.” And then she looked at me; I’ll never forget that woman’s face as long as I live. She looked at me, and do you know what she said? She said, “I fasted for nothing.” So she was ready to fast, but she wasn’t ready to try and make up with her sister. That’s Orthodoxy.
So, in any case, I said, “Well, you’ll have to fast one more day or another week or whatever.” But in any case, she tried. I’m not sure whether it worked or not, but she came back, and said that she tried. I think it worked, at least formally. But in any case, we are told, “Truly, I say to you,” again the Amen is first, “Unless you do this, you will put into the prison, and you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
So this is what Jesus is teaching His disciples. This is how His disciples are supposed to act. So to paraphrase, it was written of old, no murder; no anger; no insulting; no calling names. It’s written of old, you shall not do adultery. I say to you, if you even look lustfully, you’re already in adultery. Then, He has probably among the most radical sentences in the Scripture that comes at this point. It says:
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Throw it away. It is better that you lose one of your members than your whole body be cast into Gehenna. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Throw it away. It’s better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
So, it’s radical. Now, some people even took this seriously, and they would do this. But it doesn’t mean that you should cut your arm off. You get what the point is. It’s life and death teaching here. It’s not fooling around, and so it’s radical. Whatever offends; whatever scandalizes; whatever leads us into sin, we have to cut it off and pluck it out. Otherwise, we’re lost.
Then, you have the teaching about divorce. It was written in Moses’ Law that you could divorce. A man could write a writ of divorce and put away his wife. “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife,” and then you have the Matthean exception, “except on the grounds of pornea/sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Now, you should know in Luke and in Mark’s Gospel, there’s no exception. There’s no “except for pornea” in Mark. Matthew gives an exception, meaning that if someone adulterates the marriage by defiling it, then you have a right in order to separate, but you have no right to marry anyone else. And so, it’s a radical monogamy, which you do not have in the Old Testament.
And by the way, I studied this. In the Old Testament, there’s only one person that I could find in the entire Old Testament who was monogamous; who had only one wife, and that was Joseph, the great type of Jesus who was betrayed by his brothers; put into a pit; emerges as a king; and saves them. It’s a story of Jesus. It’s a prefiguration of Jesus.
Moses had two. When one died, he married the Cushite woman, the Ethiopian, and got into a big fight with his sister and brother – Aaron and Miriam. But David, Solomon, Abraham, they all had many wives and concubines. Solomon had 300 wives and 500 concubines. It’s unbelievable. There’s no monogamy in the Old Law. None.
But the Christian has radical monogamy or radical virginity. That’s it for a Christian. If you’re a disciple, you’re either the wife or the husband of one person forever, or you’re a celibate virgin. That’s it. That’s the teaching if you’re a Christian. That’s the Sermon on the Mountain. Then, it continues:
You have heard that it said of old that you can swear; make vows by the altar; by the Temple; or by something and you’re yourself with the word, but I say to you, do not swear at all: either by Heaven, for it’s the throne of God, or by earth, for it’s His footstool, or by Jerusalem, or by the Great King. Do not swear by your head. No, let your words simply be ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Everything else comes from the devil.
So we don’t make vows. We don’t swear. We don’t take oaths. We simply say “Yes” or “No,” straightforward and clear with no messing around. Then it says, “You have also heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” So if somebody plucks your eye, you take their eye; if they knock out your tooth, then you take their tooth; if they kill you, you kill them. Jesus said, no more.
He says, “I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other. If he would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
That’s the Christian teaching. I don’t know how much you can comment on that. It’s pretty clear. You do not return evil for evil. You return only good for evil. Otherwise, you’re part of the evil yourself. And whatever they ask, you give them double.
And then He continues, “You have heard that it was said of old, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven,” so that you may be a Christian, and you’ll have the relation that Christ has to God. It continues:
He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good; who sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the sinful tax collectors do the same? If you say, ‘Hello,’ and greet only those who are your brothers, what are you doing more than the evildoer? Do not even the Gentiles do that?
And then this chapter is summed up with these words, “You therefore must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” That’s the Christian teaching that by Christ and the Holy Spirit, human beings are to be perfect. You can say that it’s impossible. Okay, it’s impossible, but Christianity is impossible.
When Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, who can do what you teach?” Jesus didn’t tell him to try harder, and keep it up, Pete. He said, “No one. With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And the teaching would be that with the grace of God, if we really wanted it, we could live a divine life.
In fact one of the Desert Fathers, Alonius, said, “If a person just willed God’s will, without wavering from sunrise to sunset, by sundown he would be deified,” because the grace of God can do that. But it’s by the grace of God. It’s not by our energies. It’s not by anything we can do. But the grace of God, given to us through Christ, is calling us to this perfection. And the perfection ultimately is mercy and love for everyone and everything, without justification.
That’s why the parallel text in Luke is, “You, therefore, must be merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful.” And so we’re back to, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Now you have the sixth chapter, where you have Jesus teaching that there are three actions that show that you are a disciple; that you belong to Jesus, and these actions must be done in secret. They can’t be done in front of people to show off. You can’t be conceited or vain or something for doing these things, but you’ve got to do these things.
And it’s interesting in our Lectionary, it is these chapters that are read before the beginning of Great Lent. If you went to church last Saturday morning and if you went to church last Sunday morning, these are the words that you heard. You heard the first part on Saturday and the second part on Sunday.
And the first one is, “When you do acts of mercy,” in English, it says, “When you give alms,” I’ll comment on that in a minute. The second is, “When you pray,” and the third is, “When you fast.” So the teaching is that if you are really a Christian, you will do acts of mercy; you will pray; and you will fast. He doesn’t say, “If you pray,” He says, “When you pray.”
Because if you’re a Christian, your life is prayer; your life is fasting; your life is almsgiving. But here, I want to comment on this almsgiving. I don’t know about you, but when I think about alms in English, “Thus, when you give alms,” I think about Mary Poppins giving pennies to beggars. That’s not what it means. In Greek, poiēs oun eleēmosynēn means “when you do acts of mercy.”
And that’s a definition of God in the Old Testament. God is the doer of mercy. God is eleimon. This is what God is. He gives to everyone without asking, the just and the unjust. He rains. He pours. He gives. That’s how God is, total generosity; giving when people don’t ask. And this is how a Christian is supposed to be.
But Jesus says, “When you do these acts of mercy,” presupposing you will do them, “You don’t sound a trumpet.” You don’t do it to show off. You don’t do it to get your name announced. Then, He says, “If you do, truly I say to you, you have received your reward. But when you do acts of mercy, you don’t let your left hand know what you right hand is doing, and the Father sees your acts and blesses you openly.” It’s the same thing with prayer.
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, to be seen. When you pray, go into your room; shut the door; pray in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you don’t heap up a lot of empty phrases and explain to God everything like the Gentiles do. Don’t be like them.
Now, it’s very important here, especially, “When you pray, go you’re your room and shut the door.” Some people will say that we have all these big services and everybody’s there, and so on. Isn’t that violating the Sermon on the Mount? The answer is no, because Liturgy is not prayer. You have to pray when you go to Church. You have to pray all the time.
But Liturgy is intercession; psalmody; hearing the Words of God. It’s hearing the sermon. It’s making the oblation. It’s doing the offering. It’s confessing your baptism by saying the Creed. It’s participating in the Holy Sacraments. It’s not simply a prayer service. But St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this text, said, “There are people who when they are in church, you also have to go into the closet of your heart and shut the door, and don’t appear to people to be praying.”
That’s why when you go to church, you shouldn’t bring attention to yourself; going around kissing the icons; bowing; everybody sits down, and you stand up like a candle or something. No! When you go some place, you do what the people do. That’s a teaching of the Holy Fathers. When in Rome, you do what the Romans do. That’s what St. Ambrose told St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, when she was going from Milan to Rome.
She said, “When they’re down there, they sing different Psalms, and they fast differently.” He said, “When you’re in Rome, you do what they do. You don’t bring your own typicon into someone else’s church.” So liturgia or psalmodia or hymnodia is not prayer. It’s what you do in your heart in secret.
So John Chrysostom said, “When you’re standing in the midst of the great congregation, you should still pray in secret. However, there are some people who go into their room and shut their door, and the whole world knows they’re in there.” They demonstratively say, “I am going to say my prayer,” or something. Well, that’s not the teaching. The teaching is that it must be done in secret.
But it is also the teaching that everyone should go into some secret place and shut the door in their heart, in their room, and pray to God without multiplying words and explaining to God what He already knows and telling Him what he ought to do. That’s not the way it’s done.
So how is it done? He says it right here. “Pray then like this,” and you have the Our Father. It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount. The center of the Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father, who art in the heavens,
Let your name be holy,
Let your kingdom come,
Let your will be done,
As in the heavens
In Jesus the resurrected and the glorified,
So in His members on earth.
Give us this day the bread of the future age.
Forgive us what we owe,
As we have already forgiven everybody who owes us.
Do not let us fail when we’re tested, tried, and tempted,
But deliver us from the evil one, the lawless one, the antichrist, the devil himself.
That’s what the prayer is, and I will not comment on it, because you are going to have a whole Lenten series on it, so we can save some time right now and not get into it. But Fr. Roscoe is going to tell us about the daily bread, when he speaks about. He’s going to tell us that it doesn’t mean daily. It’s a bad translation.
However, what we have to see is this: Jesus gives us this prayer to say. It’s not in Mark. It’s not in John. It is in Luke, but it’s different in Luke. It’s not given in the context of the Torah in Luke. In Luke, the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples,” because a teacher is always a teacher of prayer.
That’s why in the Torah, there were prescriptions for prayer. And one of the prescriptions was, if you were a Jew, you had to say seven times a day, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is One. The Lord is God. You will love the Lord.” Well, Christians say the Lord’s Prayer at least seven times a day. And that’s why our liturgical offices are seven times – in the evening, after dinner, early in the morning, midmorning, noon, 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and Vespers.
You have seven. That’s the monastic cycle, and every Christian should be saying the Lord’s Prayer at those times of the day. If we’re baptized, that’s what we should do. And this prayer should always be on our lips. And this is the paradigmatic prayer. This is the quintessential prayer. This is the prayer that Jesus gave.
But even in Luke, when the disciples said to Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” He didn’t say to say whatever’s on your mind or chitchat with Jesus, or tell Him how you feel. Here it says, “Pray then, like this.” In Luke, it says, “When you pray, say,” and He gives us the words. So Christians pray with the words that Jesus gave.
And here, I would not say that Christians never pray in their own words. Sure, you can pray in your own words; only, after you pray in the words that God gave, because if you don’t, you can just end up praying bad prayers and stupid prayers that insult God. And in the Lord’s Prayer, there’s not one petition for anything temporal or anything earthly.
Even the bread is not food. The epiousios artos is Christ Himself, the bread of the future age. That’s why we say it in the Liturgy before Holy Communion with the intro, “And make us worthy that with boldness without condemnation to dare to call on the super heavenly God as Father and to call Him Abba Father.”
And no one can call God, Abba Father, except if they’re baptized into Christ. The Our Father prayer is a prayer for Christian disciples. It is not a general prayer for humanity. In fact, in the early Church, it was only taught to people on the eve of their baptism.
And in the old days, when everybody was baptized on the Saturday before Pascha, in the East, John Chrysostom witnesses that they heard the Lord’s Prayer for the first time on Holy Thursday, and they had to memorize it until Saturday, when they would say it for the first time after they were baptized.
In the West, St. Augustine said that they were taught it on Lazarus Saturday/Palm Sunday, and they had one week to commit it to memory and probably had some instruction about what it meant from the bishop or whoever was teaching. I like to joke that it shows that the Easterners were smarter than the Westerners, because the Westerners were given a whole week, but the Easterners were only given three days.
But the point is, they did not hear those words. Those words were not bantered around. They were the inside words for the disciples who were disciples of Jesus. And only they had the competence to say those words, because they had suffered with Jesus. They died with Jesus. They received the Holy Spirit who cries Abba Father in their heart.
St. Paul said that in Galatians and Romans before this Gospel was even written. The shortest Gospel in the Orthodox Lectionary is Christmas. It says:
When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman; born under the Law to redeem those under the Law and to give them the adoption of sonship, pouring the Spirit into their heart, crying Abba Father.
And then it’s used in Romans 8, “That the spirit in the depth, deeper than words, cries Abba Father to God.” And the only other time it’s used in the New Testament is in Mark when Jesus is in the Gethsemane Garden and Jesus prays to God, “Abba Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.” And God, the Abba, says to Him essentially, sorry, you’re getting crucified. And He doesn’t take the cup from Him. He says, no.
So Abba Father is a daring thing to call the El Shaddai; Most High; Holy, Holy, Holy God that the angels can’t even look at. Well, that’s what’s given to those who are disciples of Christ. They have the relationship with God that Jesus has from before the foundation of the world in the Holy Spirit.
So when you say the Our Father prayer, you’re right within the Holy Trinity. You’re within the Godhead, because you belong to Jesus. So this is the center of the Sermon. And if you read the sermon chaiastically, it’s at the very center. The main point is in the middle, and that’s the middle.
Then, there’s another addition, “And you must forgive people their trespasses, or God will not forgive you.” If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. And in the Lord’s Prayer it says, “Forgive us our debts,” what we owe, “As we have already forgiven those who owe us.” So if we have not forgiven people who have hurt us; we cannot say this pray, and we cannot go to Holy Communion.
I had a guy in my church in New York who didn’t pray this prayer for six months. He said, “I can’t pray it Father. I can’t forgive my mother-in-law.” I said, “Okay, don’t pray it, and don’t you dare come to Communion either. And he obeyed. Then, finally, it broke through and all that. But he used to come to these studies, and we’d be studying this stuff, and he’d go, “O Father, I wish I didn’t know that.” So sometimes you read this, and you say, “Geez, I wish I didn’t know that.” But this is what it is. This is what it is, right?
Then, it continues, “When you fast,” not if, but when, “Wash you face. Anoint your head. Don’t appear to be fasting. Be joyful.” And you notice on the beginning of Lent, how often the songs say, “Let us begin the Lent with joy. Let us wash our faces.” We don’t have ashes. We don’t have any of that stuff. We do just the opposite. We try to show that we’re joyful.
And in our tradition, very interesting and different from the West, we add Alleluias to our services, where they don’t sing Alleluia until Easter. But our piety is you multiply the Alleluias. You sing the songs of joy, and you claim that this is the best time of year and the time of the year when you’re finally doing what God wants you to.
Fasting doesn’t mean changing your diet and not having olive oil or something. Fasting means you don’t have anything that you don’t really need – no clothes, no possessions, no food, no entertainments that you don’t really need for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. You give it all up. And the money that you would use for it, you give to the poor. You do acts of mercy. That should be the Christian’s rule the whole time.
Then, you have this summation of it.
Do not lay up, for yourself, treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume; where thieves break in and steal. Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes; where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So what Jesus is saying in the Sermon is that your treasure should be in God. It should be in the Kingdom of God. You shouldn’t have any other treasure. And that’s where your heart should be. And the heart is the place where God is dwelling in the person. Then, it continues:
The eye of the lamp is the body. The eye has to be sound and single; then the body is full of light. Otherwise, we’re filled with darkness. You can’t serve two masters. You’ll either hate the one and love the other or devote the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
And mammon means this world. It means possessions, food, clothing, cars, IRS, and all that kind of stuff. That can’t be your god. Yeah, you have to take care of yourself. You definitely have to take care of your kids and family, but your heart can’t be in there. That can’t be where your treasure is, not if you’re a Christian.
And then He continues and gives a big speech against anxiety.
Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat; what you drink; what you wear, your body. Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Don’t be anxious. You can’t add a hair to your head. You can’t add a moment to your life. You can’t add a cubit to your height. Don’t be anxious about these things.
One, two, three, four, five times it says, “Don’t be anxious.” It also says:
The Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
So He said that you live in the present day, for the Kingdom of God, and God promises to take everything else. And by the way, it’s because of this that you know that the bread in the Lord’s Prayer is not earthly bread, because He says, “Don’t be anxious about what you’re going to eat.” He feeds everybody. He’ll feed you too. So a Christian seeks the Kingdom and that’s it and trusts God for everything else.
Then, it continues:
Do not judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn anybody. Why do you see the little speck that’s in the other person, but you don’t see the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye, when your own eye has a log in it?” You’re a hypocrite. Don’t give what is holy to dogs. Don’t throw your pearls before the swine.
And then you have these three imperatives, which in Greek are continuous imperatives. It’s not just, ask once, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you. It’d be better translated in English, “Be asking, all the time, and it will be given to you. Be seeking, all the time, and you will find. Be knocking, all the time.” It’s a present imperative, a continuous imperative, not just once. And He says:
For those who are seeking and asking and knocking, when you’re knocking it will be opened; when you’re asking you will receive; when you’re seeking, you will find. For what person, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone; if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If human beings, who are evil, know how to give good things to their children, how much more will your Father, who is in Heaven, give good things to those who are asking Him?
So God will give us what we need, but we have to keep seeking, asking, and knocking, and not take things into our own hands. And it’s interesting that in the Luke variation, where it says, “Your Father, who is in Heaven, will give good things to those who ask,” in Luke it says the Holy Spirit. “How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him;” the Kingdom of God; the ability to live in this world?
So this defines a Christian life. Then, He says: “The way is hard to do this. The gate is narrow, and not many people do this.” And He said, “The way is easy, and the road is wide that leads to destruction, and many are going in that way. But those who find this way are few.”
Then, He makes a warning, “Beware of the false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing. They’re ravenous wolves.” And then He says, “You will know them by their fruits.” And the fruit in Scripture, John the Baptist called it the fruit worthy of repentance. St. Paul called it the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, fidelity, and self-control. Galatians 5:22.
So those are the fruits that a person is supposed to have, as a vine that’s hooked onto Jesus. So we heard this last night at the Compline, “I am the Vine, and you are the branches.” And unless we’re connected to Jesus as the Vine, we can’t bring forth fruit, because without Him we can do nothing. But if we don’t bring forth the fruit, we’re cut off and thrown into the fire. That’s what the teaching is.
And here by the way, I would mention that according to the Holy Fathers, church services and asceticism and fasting and reading the Bible, that’s not fruit. That’s leaves. Now, a tree without leaves can’t bear fruit. But if a tree has only leaves and no fruit, then it’s also cut down. So all our ascetical practices are to bear fruit, not just to have leaves.
And the Holy Fathers say that the trees that have really beautiful leaves, they’re very high and proud and don’t have much fruit. But the trees that bear fruit are bent over, and they’re close to the ground. So, we need to have leaves. We have to have frescoes. We have to have services. We have to have singing. We have to have cantors. We have to have nice vestments, but that’s leaves. That’s not fruit, but that’s for the sake of the fruit, and the fruit are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of God that come.
So then, you have following that, what I consider personally to be the most terrifying paragraph in the New Testament. This is the most scary and terrifying verses in the New Testament. This is what Jesus says, and this is how the Sermon ends. He says:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father, who is in Heaven. On that day many will come, and they will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not cast out demons in your name? Did we not do many mighty works in your name?”
Three times, it says, “In your name.” And within the name, one is “prophecy,” which means to teach the truth of God. One is “casting out demons,” which means to heal the diseases and madness of the world. And the other is “mighty acts,” or miracles. And just for fun, let’s add, “Did we not serve the Divine Liturgy in your name? Didn’t we go to church in your name? Didn’t we organize the conference in your name? Didn’t we go to Guatemala in your name?”
Jesus continues, “And then I will declare to them, I never you. Depart from me you evildoers.” Could you imagine that? You say to the Lord, “I prophesied in your name. I did miracles in your name. I did healings in your name. I did all these things in your name my whole life. I walked around in a dress, with a cross on it, in your name.” And He says, “Depart from me you evildoer. I did not know you.”
What does that mean? What it means is that you can do all these things and even do them in the name of Christ, but you did not do them according to the law of God, which is love and mercy and forgiveness without vanity or conceit.
You did them vainly. You did them judging other people. You did them to show off. You did them to say, “I’m great. I can do these things.” Well, you’re an evildoer then. You’re not Jesus’ disciple. You’re not a Son of God.
Now many times people ask, “Well, why would the Lord do that? Why would He allow people to prophesy in His name; to cast out demons in His name; to do miracles in His name, only on the Day of Judgment that they hear they are going to Hell?” And in St. Paul, you even have other things. You have gifts of tongues. You have healings. This is in 1 Corinthians.
Well, I think the best answer that I ever read in history was Pachomius in the Desert Fathers, who said, “First of all, God does what He wants, and if He wants to use anybody to do miracles and to prophesy and to heal, He’ll do it.” So it doesn’t mean necessarily that a person is holy is doing that. It just means God is using them.
Secondly, he said, “Maybe God wants to defend His honor.” If someone preaches that the Lord can heal you, He wants to show you He can do it, or He wants to use you. Maybe you’re an arrogant and conceited person, but God uses you. If you’ve got a loose tongue, you can talk. You can tell the truth. People hear it. They’re saved. Then, you go to Hell. So God can use you.
But then this Pachomius also said, “However, it also may be that when you say to God that you prophesied and cast out demons and mighty works,” and were a priest and did the Liturgy and served, “He could say back to you, ‘Yeah, you had all that, but why then didn’t you really love God and your neighbor?’” Why wasn’t it done out of gratitude and love, without judging and condemning others? Why wasn’t it done without conceit and arrogance and showing off?
Then, Pachomius says, “Maybe God gives all these gifts to certain of us, so that when we do find out that the love of God is not in us, we’ll have no excuse. We had all the gifts.” We have all the charisms. We had the true faith. We were Orthodox.
Now, He says, “The one who does the will of my Father in Heaven,” and here, all the Holy Fathers will unanimously say that ascetical actions are not necessarily the will of God in Heaven. Miracles and prophecy and teaching and casting out demons is not necessarily the will of God in Heaven.
But loving, forgiving, being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirsting, merciful, being pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted, and being hidden in secret, that is the will of God in Heaven. And that alone saves a person.
So the Holy Fathers say that no one was ever saved for not eating meat. The devils never eat. No one was ever saved for sleeping on the ground. And no one was ever saved by doing a miracle or giving a talk. You’re only saved when you do the will of God, which is to love with the love, which God who has loved has loved us in Christ.
And therefore, keep His commandments, as given to us in the Sermon on the Mountain. Then, you can stand on the Day of Judgment, because you’re doing the will of the Father who is in Heaven. So this is what we have. And then it ends with:
Everyone who hears these words and does them will be a wise person, who built his house on a rock. The rain fell. The floods came. The winds blew. It beat on the house, but it stood. It could not fall. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The rain fell. The floods came. The winds blew. It beat against that house, and it fell. And great was the fall of it.
And then the Sermon ends with, “When Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished with His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” And that’s how it ends.
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