Lesson 3 - Sermon on the Mount

Roger Shinn

Roger L. Shinn is Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. This material prepared for Religion (Online by Paul Mobley.)
Anyone approaching the Sermon on the Mount is wise to remember a saying from Mark Twain, who was more honest about his troubles than most of us are about ours. He had heard people complain that the Bible is hard to understand. But he said he was bothered more by the parts of the Bible that he could understand than by the parts he could not understand.
This statement fits the Sermon on the Mount. Occasionally, as we study it, we find ourselves bothered by the first problem. We do not understand, and we wish we might know with certainty exactly what Jesus meant. But more often the words are so clear that we can have no doubt about their meaning. Then the real trouble comes, because we know what a change they call for in our lives, and we hesitate to make that change. We feel uneasy when we face a description of ourselves as God would have us be.?

http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=1113

Matthew chapter 5

  1. And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
    2. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying.
    3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
    5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
    6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
    7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
    8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
    9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
    10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
    11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
    12. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
    13. 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.
    14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
    15. 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.
    16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works , and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
    17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
    18. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
    19. Whosever 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.
    20. For I say onto 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.
    21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
    22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: And whosoever shall say to his brother, Ra-ca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
    23. Therefore if thou bring thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
    24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
    25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilest 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.
    26. Verily I say onto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
    27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, THOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
    28. But I say onto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath comitted adultery with her already in his heart.
    29. 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.
    30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, 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.
    31. It hath been said, WHOSOEVER SHALL PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, LET HIM GIVE HER A WRITING OF DIVORCEMENT:
    32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
    33. Again ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shall not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
    34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is Gods throne:
    35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
    36. Neither shalt thou swear by the head; because you canst not make one hair white or black.
    37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
    38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH:
    39. 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.
    40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
    41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
    42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
    43. Ye have heard that is hath been said, THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR, AND HATE THINE ENEMY.
    44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that course you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
    45. 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.
    46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
    48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    Matthew chapter 6
    1. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
    2. Therefore when thou doesth 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.
    3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
    4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
    5. 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.
    6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy close, and when thou hast shut thy dor, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
    7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
    8. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
    9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
    10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
    11. Give us this day our daily bread.
    12. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
    13. 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.
    14. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
    15. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
    16. 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.
    17. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
    18. 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.
    19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
    20. But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
    21. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
    22. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
    23. 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!
    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.
    25. 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 meat, and the body than rainment?
    26. 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?
    27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
    28. And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
    29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewith shall we be clothed?
    32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seekimage

    Swami Prabhavanandas interpretation
    of passages from the Sermon on the Mount

    Swami Prabhavananda was one of the pioneer swamis sent to America by the direct disciples of Ramakrishna to build on the work started by Swami Vivekananda at the turn of the century

    http://www.vedanta.org/vssc/prabhavananda.html

    I am not a Christian, I am not a theologian, I have not read the Bible interpretations of the great Christian scholars. I have studied the New Testament as I have studied the Scriptures of my own religion, Vedanta. Vedanta, which evolved from the Vedas, the most ancient of Hindu Scriptures, teaches that all religions are true inasmuch as they lead to one and the same goal - God-realisation. My religion therefore accepts and reveres all the great prophets, spiritual teachers and aspects of the Godhead worshipped in different faiths, considering them to be manifestations of one underlying truth.

    Swami Prabavananda: The Sermon on the Mount?

    Swami Prabavananda on the Beatitudes
    Edited from Swami Prabavananda: The Sermon on the Mount

    1. And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
    2. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying¦
     

    Every spiritual teacher, whether he is a divine incarnation or an illumined soul, has two set of teachings - one for the multitudes, the other for his disciples. […] Christ taught in the same way. He did not give the Sermon on the Mount to the multitude, but to his disciples, whose hearts were prepared to receive it.?

    1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      In this first beatitude Christ speaks of the chief characteristic which the disciple must have before he is ready to accept what the illumined teacher has to offer him. He must be poor in spirit; in other words, he must be humble. If a man has pride in learning, wealth, beauty, or lineage, or has preconceived ideas of what spiritual life is and how it should be taught, his mind is not receptive to higher teachings.?

      4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

      As long as we think that we are rich in worldly goods or in knowledge, we cannot make spiritual progress. When we feel that we are poor in spirit, when we grieve that we have not realised the truth of God, then only will we be comforted. No doubt we all mourn - but for what??

      5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

      Egotism must be overcome if the mind is to be freed from delusion. Therefore-blessed are the meek. [¦] Among the yoga aphorisms of Patanjali (yoga means union with God, also the path to that union) there is one aphorism which corresponds to this beatitude: The man who is confirmed in non-stealing becomes the master of all riches*.?
      *in the translation we use, the stanza is like this: 2.37, When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.

      6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

      What is the righteousness for which Christ wants us to hunger and thirst? [¦] The hunger and thirst after righteousness of which Christ speaks is a hunger and thirst after God himself.?

      7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

      [again we can recognise a similar stanza in Patanjalis sutras].
      To be merciful is one of the conditions necessary before we can receive the truth of God. Envy, jealousy, hatred - these are some of the universal weaknesses inborn in man. They are linked with our ego-sense which stems from ignorance. How are we to overcome them? By raising an opposite wave of thought.?

      8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

      What is this purity which we must have before God reveals himself to us? We all know of people whom we would describe as pure in an ethical sense, but they have not seen God. What is the reason? Ethical life, the steady practice of moral virtues, is needed as a preparation for spiritual life and therefore is a fundamental teaching in every religion. But it does not enable us to see God. It is like the foundation of a house; it is not the superstructure [¦] One method to calm the mind and grow in purity is to try to feel that we are already pure and divine. This is not a delusion. God created us in his own image; purity and divinity are therefore basically our nature. [¦] Sri Ramakrishna used to say that by repeating constantly, |?I am a sinner, one really becomes a sinner. [¦] Admit your sins to the Lord, Sri Ramakrishna taught, and vow not to repeat them. Purify body, mind and tongue by chanting his name. The more you move towards the light, the farther you will be from darkness.?

      9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

      There is a passage in the Bhagavagata, a popular devotional Scripture of the Hindus, which reads: He in whose heart God has become manifest brings peace and cheer, and delight everywhere he goes.? He is the peacemaker Christ speaks of in the Beatitudes?

      10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
      11. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.

      12. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

      Worldly people do not understand the value of the spiritual life. Often they mock at the spiritual aspirant, and sometimes they revile him and try to do him an injury. But the religious man does not react to this. His mind is fixed in God; therefore he feels the unity, he sees the ignorance, and he is merciful. But whether he is criticised or harmed, he does not compromise; he does not choose to please worldly people.?

      13. 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.

      Just as you can see the contents of a cupboard through its glass doors, a great teacher can see into your heart. But he does not condemn you for your faults and weaknesses. He knows human nature. Because he realises that when you feel weak and depressed you can cannot achieve anything, cannot grow spiritually, he gives you confidence in yourself.
      The teacher sees not merely what you are at present, but also the capacities you will develop. [¦] Meekness and faith in oneself must go together. The faith which Christ instilled in his disciples by calling them the salt of the earth? was not faith in the lower self, the ego, but faith in the higher self, faith in God within. With such faith comes self-surrender, freedom from any sense of ego.?

      16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works , and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

      Of course, you have to be a seeker after the truth of God in order to be susceptible to a spiritual atmosphere. If you are not interested in God-realisation, Christ himself may stand before you to teach you, and you will not appreciate him or recognise his greatness. [¦] But if you are a spiritual aspirant and come into the presence of an illuminated soul, you cannot do other than glorify God [¦]?

      17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
      18. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
      19. Whosever 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.

      Jesus here speaks of the mission of the divine incarnation, called the avatar by the Hindus and the Son of God by the Christians […]?

      [In Bhagava gita] Krishna says:

    When goodness grows weak,When evil increases,
    I make myself a body.
    In every age I come back To deliver the holy,
    To destroy the sin of the sinner,To establish righteousness.


    9. After this manner therefore pray ye:

    Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
    10. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
    11. Give us this day our daily bread
    12. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
    13. 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.

    Our Father
    Christ , like other great spiritual teachers, emphasises the path of devotion, in which God is worshipped as a personal being. In order that we may love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, as Christ wants us to do, we have to consider him our very own. And in order that we may consider him our very own, we have to enter into a definite relationship with him.?

    which art in heaven
    But where is heaven? Both Christianity and Vedanta teach [¦] that the kingdom of heaven is within us. This does not mean that the kingdom of heaven has a spatial existence. Heaven is beyond space. To be in heaven? is to realise God in our own consciousness?

    Hallowed be thy name.
    [..] the name of God in itself is of the greatest religious significance. [¦] And in the Gospel according to St, John we read that Jesus asked his disciples to pray in his name: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.?
     


    Thy kingdom come
    Christ tells us that Gods kingdom has come already; it has always been with us and we must realise this. At least when we pray and meditate we should forget this universe, forget ourselves, and feel that God alone exists. Through such practice, our ignorance will vanish one day, and we will actually see his kingdom in our hearts and all around us.?

    Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven
    […]? Even in our present ignorance, we can say with confidence that Gods will is whatever will lead us to him. And we can pray: Lord, I dont know what your will is, but guide me so that I may do it. May I be a tool in your hand!?

    Give us this day our daily bread
    Our daily bread? is the bread of divine grace, and we are praying that this grace may be revealed to us now, this day, this moment and forever. […] Most of us feel that we have so many impurities, so many faults to overcome, so much discipline to work through, that we cannot possibly reach God until some distant point in the future. This seeming humility is actually vanity, because it presupposes that we can know God through our own efforts, our own will power. That is all nonsense!?

    And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
    A Hindu or a Buddhist would read the debts? in this passage as the debts of karma.?

    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.
    Many persons find this part of the Lords prayer difficult to understand. How is it possible, they ask, for God to tempt anybody? […] To the students of Vedanta, the Prayer is meaningful just as we find it here. Is not the whole universe one gigantic temptation? God himself has conjured up the magic of creation, preservation, and destruction through maya, his cosmic power which is the basis of the universe of mind and matter. Fascinated by maya, man does not see that God, the Atman, dwells within his own heart. He sees instead the manifold universe and wants to enjoy its objects and attractions through his outgoing senses. Forgetting God, he becomes a slave to the temptation of Gods maya and lives in bondage to ignorance and the cravings of his ego. The process which takes place when man succumbs to temptation is described in the Bhagava Gita:

    Thinking about sense-objects will attach you to sense-objects; grow attached, and you become addicted; thwart your addiction, it turns to anger; be angry and you confuse your mind; confuse your mind, you forget the lessen of experience; forget experience, you loose discrimination; lose discrimination, and you miss life’s only purpose?