There was one text in the Bible that has been the most influential on my life. It was this text that really helped convince me to become a Christian, and it was this text that brought me into radical politics. The passage I am referring to is the Sermon on the Mount.
It was when I was in middle school that I was first introduced to this famous sermon, and it ignited my interest in the gospel. By reading its words, I fell in love with the man who spoke them, and I wanted to apply the sermon to all aspects of my life. It was a big reason that I became interested in left-wing and anti-war movements as well. It would be years later, when I read Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, that I really started to realize just how much was packed into Matthew 5-7. Recently, a friend of mine who I know from both Young Anabaptist Radicals and MennoNerds, said, ”The Sermon on the Mount or Plain is the Christian’s constitution.” I think there is a lot of truth to that.
According to the biblical scholarship I have read, the Sermon on the Mount is actually not a single sermon (which is how Luke depicts it). The Sermon on the Mount is roughly five separate sermons attributed to Jesus that were compiled together by Matthew for convenience. It is also possible that the Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s version because they are recalling two different, but similar, sermons by Jesus. Christ was a itinerant preacher, so it is very likely that he preached multiple, similar sermons as he went from place to place. The way Matthew compiled these sermons together is important; it shows us that Matthew saw this as a summary of Jesus’ teachings.
The Sermon on the Mount can be seen as a convenient collection of Jesus’ gospel, and I agree with both Tolstoy and my friend that the sermon is essentially a Christian’s constitution. It depicts how Christians should act in the world, and more importantly it is a manifesto of the Kingdom of God. T. V. Philip, a little-known theologian from India, wrote some very powerful words concerning the Sermon on the Mount and its relationship with the Kingdom of God—about the political, social, and economic implications of these words:
The Sermon on the Mount is about life in the kingdom. The Beatitudes summarize the nature of the kingdom. “Blessed are you who are poor.” In this world, in our society, the poor will always remain poor. They will always be hungry. The meek will always be persecuted and those who weep will always weep and no one is going to comfort them. This is the way of the world. In our society, ‘Blessed are the rich, for they will receive more wealth and influence.’
The coming of the kingdom of God creates a crisis in human society. It challenges our accepted political, economic and social order. In the kingdom of God, the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and the Gentiles are accepted. When the Pharisees and the Scribes murmured saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’, Jesus in reply told the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. ‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’ Jesus accepted the hospitality of a tax collector and when the Jewish leaders complained that he had gone to be the guest of a man who was a sinner Jesus replied, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham’.
This is the new thing about the kingdom of God. When the kingdom comes, the foundations of the old order will crumble. The mighty will be cast down and the lowly lifted up. Blessed are those who are poor, hungry and those who weep. They will all be satisfied. But, ‘Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation; woe unto you that are full now, you shall mourn and weep’.
‘Blessed’ means that the poor, the hungry and those who mourn are the favored people. It is the task of the followers of Christ to care for them and struggle for a social, political and economic order which is just and participatory. Blessedness also refers to the joy which springs from within, which is completely independent of the changes and chances of the situation one may be in. The beatitude also speaks of that joy which sorrow and loss, pain and grief, are powerless to touch. It is a joy which nothing in life or death can take away.
The wealthy and the mighty of this world depend on their wealth and influence. They have their reward in this world itself. The poor have nothing to depend upon except on God. Their joy and blessedness comes out of their utter dependence on God; it is the joy of walking in the company of God. This is what happens when we live in the kingdom of God. This is a new thing. The poor are favored in the kingdom not only because injustice is done to them in this world, but also because they trust in God. ‘This poor man cried and God heard him.’ (“The Kingdom of God Belongs to the Poor”)
I have read The Communist Manifesto, the Declaration of Independence, and many revolutionary documents, but I have found nothing more revolutionary than the Sermon on the Mount. I have found nothing so thorough in its political, social, and economic subversion. The empires of the world and the various political parties and factions have their founding documents, and for the Christian Church, the Sermon on the Mount should be our constitution, manifesto, and declaration of independence from the cosmic powers over this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
This post originally appeared on Koinonia Revolution.