Rev. George Mastrantonis
The Sermon on the Mount
An outstanding guide in moral reflection is recorded by St. Matthew in his first group of studies, a discourse which consists of pronouncements and utterances of Jesus to His Disciples and to every disciple henceforth. It is known as the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew. chs. 5, 6, 7), which reminds us of the Ten Commandments of old which were given on Mount Sinai.
"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain; and when he was set, his disciples came unto him, and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ..."
Our Lord journeyed through Galilee "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23). The "Gospel of the kingdom" is the most important subject in the New Testament (cf Matt. 3:2). The Gospel and deeds of Jesus Christ were understood as messianic, especially when Christ was "healing all manner of sickness". Christ was accepted by the multitude as the Messiah. It was at this moment that Jesus left the multitude and "went up into a mountain" (5:1), which by tradition is located about five miles west of the Sea of Galilee. On this mountain Jesus taught His disciples and other persons.
The Sermon on the Mount was destined to become the universal charter of ethics and higher ideals that have shaped the moral principles of the civilized world. The Sermon on the Mount reminds us of Moses and the Mosaic law, the covenant and the Ten Commandments, which were delivered on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:3f). At that time, God appeared in clouds and thunder; but in the Sermon on the Mount, God was present as a divine and human Being, the incarnate Jesus Christ, to utter clearly the revelation for the new creation of mankind.
The main teaching of the Sermon is not so much the kingdom of Heaven and repentance (4:17), which are presupposed, but the new piety versus the old piety of the scribes and pharisees (5:17-26). The Sermon encourages the Christian to apply in his own life these principles of piety. It opens with the Beatitudes (5:3-12), which describe the character of a true disciple, and of the Christian who glorifies God. and will enter His kingdom. The Sermon instructs the Disciples and believers, to seek the true righteousness and informs them that their good works are for the glory of God (5:13-16), not for merit and fame. It indicates that this righteousness is superior to the purely legal kind taught by the scribes (5:17-48) and practiced by the pharisees (6:1-18). For the attainment of this goal, a series of commandments are given (6:19-7:6 negative, and 7:7-23 positive), and the Sermon closes with the parable of the builders (7:24-27), all to the astonishment of the listeners (7:27-29).
"'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.'"
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the utterance of "moving lyrical strains of the Beatitudes." They constitute "the string of pearls" which adorn the crowning of Christian ethics. The Beatitudes are independent exhortations of blessedness to mold the character of the Christian believer.
Blessed is the translation of the original Greek word, makarios, which means much more than happy or fortunate. "Blessedness implies a feeling of being highly favored, especially by the Supreme Being, and often a deep joy arising from the present domestic, benevolent or religious affection" (Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms) (See Ps. 1:1; 2:12; 65:4, etc.)
The Beatitudes provide the specifications for the architecture of Christian character. Accepted as a whole, they provide the ingredients for the upright Christian character:
Salt and Light, 5:13-16
"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
Four terms are used to illustrate the Christian character: salt, light, lamp, and lamp-stand. Salt was used by the Jewish people to sprinkle on oil to give brightness to the lamps. Salt also was used to purify and preserve food. Jesus Christ used these illustrations to show the function of the Christian character, to give brightness to life and to preserve society from the forces of decay. The lamp and lamp-stand were used as an illustration for everyday life of the Jewish people. The significance is that the disciples of Christ and all Christians are obliged to present the light of the Gospel to the world. Jesus named Himself the Light to illuminate the Apostles and disciples as they present the Light of the Gospel to the world, shining before man to show God's good works and to guide man in glorifying the True God.
The Fulfillment of the Ancient Law, 5:17-48
The Attitude of Jesus Toward the Law, 5:17-20
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
The law of the Old Testament was inspired by God through the prophets in order to guide the people to accomplish the Will of God. Jesus Christ was not to abolish the old law, but to fulfill it and to give it the right interpretation. The fulfillment of the law was attained not only through the new interpretation of the intention of the believers, but especially through the Person of Jesus Christ as Savior in all ages. The old law - the Old Testament in general - is the "custodian" to Christ. What the Old Testament needs is a new interpretation in the light of the teaching of the New Testament and in the function of Jesus for the attainment of salvation. The disciples of Christ should teach the law and practice it in order to be worthy of their mission. It is necessary to add the Christian view to the righteousness of scribes and pharisees, showing that they should sacrifice much of their pleasures and riches in order to win believers in Christ. The new interpretation of the Law is "destined to set Christianity free from Judaism" (F. C. Grant).
The Law On Murder, 5:21-22
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, 'Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement.' But I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement; and whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca', shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool', shall be in danger of hell-fire."
The new interpretation of the law is not merely to correct the wrongdoer, but more to prevent him even from thinking of doing wrong. It is the evil thought and intention which is sin, and which needs cure. It is not only the killer who violates the law, but the person who intends to kill, or who is angry with his brother also violates the new meaning given the law by Jesus Christ. Even words which insult another person are considered a violation of the new interpretation of the Gospel (see the examples of Jesus' revision and reinterpretation of the Law).
Reconciliation With Friends, 5:23-24 and Enemies, 5:25-26
"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother halt aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou has paid the uttermost farthing."
Throughout the New Testament, the right relation of one man to another is stressed and guided not only in its external function but especially from within the heart and mind of the Christian. Any degree of hostility, any hidden thought of envy would be the great separator between the believer and God. The Christian should learn that with the grace of God he should build more bridges of communication with his neighbor, rather than construct fences of protection. A Christian is not expected to be a saint without mar of sin, but he is one who is struggling with himself to avoid the violations of God's Will and striving to overflow with the quality of Christian love which is attainable by sacrifice of pleasures, pride and riches. The Christian has no enemies; does not seek revenge; does not stop praying for people whose hearts are not yet cultivated and watered by the grace of God.
Law On Adultery, 5:27-30
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a women to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
Adultery was a weakness of the people of the past and still remains as such among the people of the Christian era. In the past, customs and laws legalized adultery and fornication through polygamy. Solomon with many "wives" was not committing adultery. Jesus stated that adultery is sinful, not only through the actual sexual act, but even through the thought of lust.
Jesus condemns adultery in the heart. The illustration of plucking the eye is not to be taken literally; neither the illustration of cutting off the right hand. These illustrations suggest the uprooting of evil thoughts from one's heart. In Christian ethics, the only legal and sacred relation between man and women is their union in wedlock. Every other sex relation and practice is against the principles of the Gospel.
The Law On Divorce, 5:31-32
"It hath been said, 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.' But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife, saying for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced cometh of evil."
Jewish men at the beginning of the Christian era had the right to divorce their wives and marry again. Jesus Christ forbids divorce save for the cause of fornication. The Eastern Orthodox Church permits divorce only on the grounds of adultery and reasons such as insanity, abandonment and changing of faith. Under these conditions, second and third marriages are permitted in the Orthodox Church.
Law On Oaths, 5:33-37
"Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, 'Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.' But I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by the head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, 'Yea, yea'; Nay, nay'; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
Jesus stresses that truthfulness of speech is indispensable for the maintenance of a healthy community. James 5:12 reads,"Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay". The Christian. has no right to swear either by heaven or "by your head". Jesus Christ commands, "Swear not at all" (5:34) in private life and enterprises. An oath is required in a court of law. But an individual who takes the oath to tell the truth invokes God to help him to state the truth and aid the court to pronounce justice.
Law On Revenge, 5:38,42
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
Revenge is forbidden because it multiplies evils a hundredfold. The Christian should "overcome evil with good". Jesus condemns the legalized Jewish custom of "an eye for an eye" (which probably means only an eye for an eye), and commands the Christian to tolerate the insult if his enemy smites his right cheek. The Christian should tolerate such humiliation because of his firm faith in God's command; he sacrifices his ego and pride with the intention of winning his enemy to Christ, making him his friend and creating in him a belief in Christ on whose commandment he is a servant.
Love For One's Enemies, 5:43-48
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.' "But I say unto you, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and them which despitefully use you, persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.' For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do no even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
Christian love is unique in the Gospel. Its root is absolute dedication to God's Will, from which the believer receives the power and grace not to forget his enemy but to forgive him and remember hope that some day he will win his enemy to Christ. This needs a deep understanding of sacrifice enriched and nourished ceaselessly by the grace of God. In fact, it is not the faithful one alone who forgives and loves his enemy, but also God Almighty Who has shielded His servant to convey His love and sacrifice for his enemy. Love of intimate friends and relatives is commonplace. What God expects from His believers is love for people who are either opposed to them or who are without qualities of attraction.
Pious Works and Their Practice, 6:1-18
"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to he seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."
The Christian who has been taught the principles which are included in the preceding chapter 5 is ready to serve the Will of God toward his fellow man. The Christian is confronted with the difficulty of choosing the proper way to help his fellow man. Jesus admonishes the Christian that everything should be done "not before men to be seen of them". The Christian is urged to put to work his faith. His good works should not be done before men to gain him recognition, but in such a kind and gentle way as to make more steadfast their hope in the providence of God. The Christian should not practice good works for the sake of good works, but in the name of Jesus Christ; he is His steward of the riches and blessings of God. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are included in the good works which apply, respectively, to one's neighbor, to God and to one's self.
"Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."
The practice of giving alms was mentioned to guide the intentions of the giver and to sanctify his offering in the name of God. Secrecy in giving alms is imperative to eliminate the arrogance of the giver and to make him only God's steward and servant. The true meaning of the art of almsgiving is not the anonymous gift, but the humble gesture of the donor through the deep feeling of serving God's will. The Christian donor should not advertise his generosity to immortalize his name, but should pray for God's blessing to be in a position to further contribute to a good cause in God's name.
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. But not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knowest what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."
Prayer also should be offered in privacy; but does not eliminate corporate worship. Prayer should be sincere, concise, ritualistic or extemporaneous, constituting a sacred conversation with Almighty God and offered in repentance and obedience.
The Lord's Prayer, 6:9-13
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
The Lord's Prayer was taught to the disciples by Jesus Christ not as the only prayer, but as an example for other prayers in various circumstances and needs to reach communion with God. In the Lord's Prayer the Christian invokes God the Father for his tenderness and mercy, and at the same time he confesses the brotherhood of mankind in order to sanctify His Name, to obey His Will and to thank God for his daily bread. The Christian pledges to forgive his debtors and invokes God to deliver him from evil. (See O LOGOS pamphlet, "The Lord's Prayer")
"Moreover when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and was thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
Fasting in itself is not a virtue, but it helps the pious Christian behave himself, to give alms and to pray. Fasting once was the practice of abstention from everything but bread and water. For the Christian today fasting is instead a certain selection of foods. Spiritual fasting is the abstention from sin, exemplifying love and charity for the needy and accomplishing God's Will toward one's neighbor.
TRUE DEVOTION, 6:19-24 AND TRUST IN GOD, 6:25-34
Treasures In Heaven, 6:19-21
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Riches and treasures on earth are corrupted by moth and worm in the hands of an owner who has made them his goal on earth. In their desires to gather wealth for the sake of wealth, as an objective of life, many men have made wealth an idol. Treasures and riches can be handled by a Christian as a steward, as an instrument for progress and work, for charity and help, transferring earthly wealth into treasures in heaven. The human heart belongs either to earthly wealth or to treasures in heaven.
Clear Sight, 6:22-23
"The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
What the lamp is to the house, the eye is to the body. If the eye is sound and healthy, it provides happiness; if the eye is diseased (evil), it is blind and brings darkness to human life. By obeying the principles of the Gospel, the Christian clarifies his sight and insight in order to serve his mission in bringing the Light to the world.
True Loyalty, 6:24
"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
There is no neutral position for the Christian. He is exhorted to oust evil from his heart and at the same time act ceaselessly for the development of his Christian character. God and mammon (wealth, property, possessions, etc.) should not be placed on the same level by compromising and exchanging their influence. Mammon should always serve God's Will so the Christian may keep his loyalty to God undefiled.
Faith In God - Against Anxiety, 6:25-34
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? "Therefore take no thought, saying, 'What shall we eat? or, 'What shall we drink? or, 'What withal shall we be clothed?' For after all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father Knoweth that ye have need of all these things. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Verses 6:25 to 34 (cf. Lk. 12:22-31) are an analysis of verse 24, which deals with the overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Men of every generation, regardless of the progress of civilization, feel anxiety if they are not careful to trust in God. The desire for security for the future is very strong, not only in the underprivileged one, but to anyone, regardless of wealth.
The only way to overcome anxiety ("anguish or fear coupled with uncertainty, or of the anticipation of impending misfortune, disaster or the like") is to dedicate oneself without any reservation to the providence of God and His loving care. Here our Lord Jesus Christ presents God acting and caring for the individual believer and for the betterment of mankind. God shapes the history of human activities for the benefit and salvation of the individual and the world.
The Christian is urged to have confidence in himself, working and acting according to the principles of the Gospel, and to entrust his future to Almighty and Loving God, Whom he praises and worships. The opening sentence of this paragraph starts with the admonition, "Take no thought for your life" (v. 25), and ends, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow". Our Lord summarized His utterances saying, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Whoever shall seek it "first" will search for it, and only it - the Kingdom of God.
Judgement Of Others, 7:1,5
"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, 'Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye,' and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
The devout Christian is aware of the final judgment which will take place at the second coming of the Lord. This judgment will consider the activities of the Christian, especially in relation to his neighbor. "Judge not", is both a warning for the Christian not to exercise judgment against his neighbor and also an indication that by not judging others he may not be severely judged by God. The Christian is urged not to compromise evil doings with the moral principles of the Gospel; he as a Christian is appointed a guardian of the Christian moral code to function in the everyday life of his society.
The Christian has no right to condemn his neighbor; on the contrary, he should show kindness and sympathy. But he does have the right to judge the wrong activity in itself. He does not have the right to judge the thief, but has the right to pronounce stealing a crime against society and a sin toward God's Will. By judging the wrong activity as such, the Christian includes himself, because he is responsible for the poor education of the people which afflicts the members of society at large. The Christian is advised to "cast out the beam from thine own eye", which means to provide means for greater education and sound guidance for all peoples, young and old, so that all people respect the law and follow the sphere of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
THE RIGHT WAY OF PRESENTING THE GOSPEL, 7:6
"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."
The christian is an ambassador of the Will of God and the Gospel; his mission is to present the Message of Christ wherever he is and with whatever he has at his disposal. His example, his manner, his words and sympathy, according to his position and responsibilities, are to be used for the expansion of the kingdom of God. The Christian should be careful of how to approach people who are disrespectful and impure; he is advised to use his friendship and acquaintance in order to encourage these people to follow the Christian way of life and then to show them the holiness of God and the pearls of His Gospel.
THE ANSWER OF A TRUE PRAYER, 7:7-11
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him"'
Ask, seek, knock. These words emphasize the persistence that a faithful Christian should use to invoke God's mercy and enlightenment. God knows what the faithful man needs, but the persistence of the faithful one to invoke God's mercy is for his own benefit, making him vigilant and bringing him nearer to God by keeping the channel of communion open and clear. The Christian is urged to watch and pray ceaselessly with the immutable confidence and conviction that God Almighty, his Father, will answer those petitions which are for his benefit, not only for this life but also for the eternal life.
THE GOLDEN RULE, 7:12
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
Provided that faith in the true God is firm and life-giving, the Christian must apply the fruits of his faith toward the benefit of his neighbor. If, for instance, his neighbor is crippled, the Christian should do those things for him which he himself would need were he the crippled one. In these plain and practical words our Lord summarized the commandments of the "law and the prophets". The technology of today provides ways to cultivate the vast energy of the earth and the universe, and has the potential to provide goods for everyone on earth to enjoy a decent life. Technology is a blessing in the hands of men and nations who are inspired to produce and share the goods of life for all people on earth and to establish brotherhood under the blessings of God, the Father. This deep conception of responsibility is the only ground on which to establish peace on earth, which is the goal of the Golden Rule of Christ.
TRUE DISCIPLESHIP, 7:13-27
The Narrow Way, 7:13-14
"Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; "because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
The Christian faithful should bear in mind that the undertaking of Christianity should be exemplified through Jesus Christ as an inspired member of the Church in love and sacrifice. The gate of the kingdom of God is straight and narrow leading to salvation, unlike the gate of destruction, which is broad. The privilege of choice should be evaluated for the Christian to select rather the narrow gate which demands sacrifice and humility, kindness and sympathy to enter "unto life". The picture of the two roads and ways of life was known and exemplified by the pre-Christian world, as well as the Christian. (cf. Didache, ch. 1-6, and the "Choice of Heracles").
The Test Of Goodness, 7:15-20
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
"False prophets" of Christianity are dressed with the mantle of hypocrisy and cleverness; they seek to exploit the simplicity of kind people and replace the Gospel of Christ and Christ Himself with temporary manifestations of glory and human accomplishment. They are false prophets who endeavor to forge with shrewdness untruth from the true message of Christ. We should beware of them. The Orthodox Church is the guide to the true meaning of the Gospel and the true mission of Christ by preaching the same Gospel and the same Lord from the dawn of Christianity to today, without deviation or innovation. The believer is urged to be firmly the member of the sacred body of Christ - the Church - to gain nourishment and sanctification. To distinguish the true prophet from the false, Christians should be well informed and alert, learning the meaning of the Gospel, worshipping the True God and helping each other in faith in the realm of the Church Whose Head is Christ.
Judgement And Its Criterion, 7:21-23
"Not every one that saith unto me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?' And then will I profess unto them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Hypocrisy and false prophecy can be hidden from the eye of the believer by pretending to exercise good works and "casting out demons" in the name of the Lord. False prophets can deceive their fellow man; but they cannot deceive the judgment of God. Who will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you evil-doers".
Arrogance, hypocrisy and false-witness of God are the weaknesses of humans. Therefore, the believer without a strong foundation of Christian knowledge and humility, may become the prey of evil ones. External gestures and words are not always the sign of the inner spiritual condition and intention. Therefore, the Christian is urged to look into himself with the light of the Gospel to illuminate his conscience in order to pave the wax of obedience and humbleness which leads to communion with God.
Hearers and Doers of the Sayings, 7:24-27
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house, upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
The believer faces in life many difficulties, disappointments, misfortunes. Therefore, he should be armed with courage and faith in God to overcome the sorrowful moments of his life, as well as the moments of reluctant faith. The Christian witnesses the rain fall, the floods come and the winds blow; his house-his heart and faith-will overcome their destructive power if his house is built upon the rock, upon a solid and unshakeable rock of knowledge and true worship of God. The wise man lays such a foundation and cornerstone as a strong protector against all destructive and evil powers that threaten him, his house, his faith, his virtuous life. The foolish man builds his house on sand, following the easy-going life without foundation, without solid faith. His house cannot stand the power of destructive forces. The Christian is called to build his house of faith and moral life on the rock which is Christ and His Gospel. His house is a fortress for protection and defense, and for the expansion of the kingdom of God.
ASTONISHMENT OF JESUS'S HEARERS, 7:28,29
"And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine, "for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
On top of the blessed hill, surrounded by trees and birds, in the tranquility of the environment which mother nature provided for this moment, the disciples of Christ breathlessly listened to the Lord. They accepted His words as precious pearls, from beginning to end. They "were astonished at His teaching", and exclaimed, "that he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes". With this treasure in their hearts, the disciples armed themselves with convictions and courage to immortalize Christ and His Gospel throughout the world so that we today share this inheritance which has shaped the destiny of civilization. The Sermon on the Mount, an advanced companion of the Ten Commandments, is perpetuated in the hearts and activities of inspired and dedicated people who bold the banner of Christ's kingship from generation to generation, heralding the living message of Christ to a living society.
Published in January 2011.