Speaking Of Life 2010 | Notice the Details
Any good literature class teaches you to look at details. Your professor will draw your attention to rhyme and meter, as well as word choice and atmosphere.
We’re often not used to treating the scriptures as literature. Even though the Bible tells us about history, the authors did so with thematic and artistic elements that are easy to overlook.
Take for example the way Matthew and Luke introduce Jesus’ most famous sermon. No doubt Jesus reused material in his itinerant preaching over three years, sometimes even giving the same sermon twice. Look at the subtle difference between two gospel writers’ choice of accounts.
In Matthew we read:
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1 NRSV)
Then in Luke we read:
“And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people.” (Luke 6:17 NRSV)
Both go on to tell about Jesus giving a sermon very alike in substance. These details seem small, almost insignificant, until you look at the themes of these gospels.
Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience to prove that Jesus is the prophesied new Moses who will bring the good news of God to his people. As Moses went up the mountain to receive and deliver commandments, so Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.
Luke often wrote about money and how we are to treat the poor and needy. He wrote about Jesus coming to call all people to himself equally, emphasizing that we are all equal royalty in his kingdom. So he records the Sermon on the Plain.
The sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain—the same sermon given twice, but the difference of venue is important. The underlying message is the same: Jesus is changing everything. The old laws and old traditions are being transformed. The old divisions of haves and have-nots in society are meaningless in the kingdom.
Jesus gives the new law from the mountain, and gives the new social order from the plain. I wonder where he would give this sermon in our society? Maybe on the steps of the White House with all the secret service guys running to stop him? Maybe in the middle of nowhere to people who make up the odds and ends of society?
His message was a surprise to many:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5 NRSV)
These are the words of revolution, and at the same time these are words which appeal to every human heart. These words of forgiveness and hope are the virtues and values of the kingdom of God itself. Where would Jesus speak this good news to us? Would we listen?
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life!