I was talking with a group of dedicated Christians. As we considered the Sermon on the Mount, one of them pointed out that the teachings were so demanding that it was impossible to live up to them.
His view was understandable, of course. To love your enemies, to turn the other cheek, to do good with no wish for recognition, to be free of personal vanity -- what demands the sermon makes!
And yet, even if we acknowledge that human beings are far from perfect, it's unthinkable to believe that the Messiah, the hope of the world, would ask the impossible, that his teachings would set unachievable standards.
There's an alternative to giving up on the sermon, I decided. It's to release the concept of ourselves as struggling, mistake-laden people who try but can't succeed. Instead, we can identify with a higher sense of ourselves -- with that in us which wishes and works to consistently epitomize Christliness, which strives to be always honest, always loving, always reaching out to help another.
There is good reason for people to identify themselves in this way. As the writers of Genesis I state, man is created "in the image of God." n1 Man therefore is the image of God's infinite goodness, love, wisdom, understanding, holiness.
n1 Genesis 1:27.
If I were to think I have to meet testing times alone with my human tendencies, I'd probably never feel I could get free of being someone who thinks of the right thing to say or do when it's too late, who's naturally a little lazy, sometimes selfish, drawn only to preferred people and activities. I'd feel that situations would come up when inertia, ignorance, lack of interest or understanding, would just naturally inhibit and prevent my living up to the sermon.
But as I recognize my foundation of obedience to be the fact that I'm the image of God, then the perfection of God is the governing factor in my response to the sermon. Keeping clear about my true identity, I can insist that every ungodlike tendency has, in reality, no foundation, endorsement, support, or power to induce me to act wrongly.
Not that obedience is always effortless! But legitimate efforts are impelled by the infinite power of God Himself. It's God'sm goodness that energizes our efforts and prospers continuing growth in obedience.
Relying on the impulsion of God, infinite Love, one need never fear there will be a dwindling of ability to act correctly. Right responses to situations will be strengthened and sustained by God. In times of impatience we'll find, through prayer, additional understanding and compassion. In times of necessary support for others, instead of inertia and selfishness we'll find reserves of caring and a sense of direction for our helping. And because all the qualities of Love are sustained by God, we'll find our reserves of loving expand more and more as we use them.
Mary Baker Eddy's n2 love of the sermon is attested to many times in her writings. She says, "No purer and more exalted teachings ever fell upon human ears than those contained in what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. . . ." n3
n2 Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science;
n3 Restrospection and Introspection,m p. 91.
The Sermon on the Mount is not just high and difficult ideals. It's a yardstick against which we can measure ourselves in order to see our progress as disciples. When we remember and live with the right sense of ourselves -- realizing our inseparable dependence on God and His goodness, knowing that in truth we are the image of God -- we can be students sitting at the feet of the Master, listening with receptive hearts and then going out into the world, cherishing his teachings and living them.
It's a beautiful sermon. Its teachings are useful, wide-ranging, timeless, rich with blessings. And Christ Jesus intended them for allm his disciples, to inspire and guide forever. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven. Matthew 5:12