The man of St Matthew



Chapters 5 -7: Overview


With chapter 5 we begin our reading of the Sermon on the Mount which continues to the end of chapter 7. This discourse of Jesus is perhaps the most famous of all Jesus' teachings and the influence of this sermon over the centuries has been enormous. For many, the Sermon is the essence of Christianity but we would see that today as too limited a reading. As always, the Sermon must be read within its context, that of the Gospel of Matthew and indeed of the New Testament as a whole. The Sermon as the first teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Mattthew has an important place in the unfolding of the story, it is his keynote speech. Yet many of the themes will be discussed again later in the Gospel. The story will then eventually continue to the cross and resurrection ending with the final commission to the disciples. The Sermon forms part of the whole.

Our aim in our reading is as part of our purpose of reading the story of the Gospel. We will read carefully what the evangelist says without getting too involved with the many issues of interpretation which have been discussed over the centuries. We will also take particular note of the background to Jesus' teaching, which comes mainly from the Old Testament.

Perhaps the most notable understanding of the sermon in the past allowed for two levels of keeping the very high standards set by the Sermon. There were those, mainly by religious profession or ordination, who were expected to live by those standards. Those with less commitment need not keep the Sermon so strictly. Such double standards were swept away by the teaching of the second Vatican Council that all the baptised are called to holiness. In the Constitution on the Church, the Council says:
The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, regardless of their situation: "You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5,48). (LG 40)

Overview of the Sermon: chapters 5 - 7

The Sermon on the Mount unfolds over three chapters of the Gospel, 5, 6 and 7. Whilst the chapters are always the basis of our reading, we will find that it is better to read the first part of chapter 7 as part of chapter 6.

The Sermon has been carefully composed so we need an overview of the three chapters; read now through the Sermon. This first reading is not a detailed reading; the aim is get an idea of the content of the Sermon and how it is composed. Jot down therefore what strikes you as the various sections and units of the sermon, looking for repetitions and concluding statements.

Consider the contrast in style between the presentations in 5,3-6,18 and what follows in 6,19-7,12.
Look for the two similar phrases in the Sermon which could be considered as a key to our reading of the sermon by providing a bracket.

What is common to the setting and the ending of the Sermon, 5,1-2 and 7,28-29? What does this tell us about the sermon?

From your investigations, try to draw up an outline of the Sermon and the way it has been organised.

Look now at my response.

Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6

Much of Jesus's teaching in the Sermon is also found in the Gospel of Luke, but there it is presented in a very different way. Many of the parallels between the Sermon and Luke will be found among the teachings of Jesus during his lengthy journey to Jerusalem.
Luke though does have the much shorter Sermon on the Plain in chapter 6. It will be useful for our reading of Matthew to make a simple comparison between the two. We can see how Luke has a similar outline to the Sermon on the Mount but with much omitted. List the teachings in Luke therefore and see how it is parallel with Matthew's Sermon.

Such a comparison between two evangelists can be a useful tool for our reading. We will therefore be refering to Luke when that will be helpful.

Look now at my response.

Our next step towards reading the Sermon will be our overview of chapter 5.