Sermon on the Mount, words anything but ordinary

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
In the face of unrelenting violence in our world, in our nation and in our communities, our faith in the crucified and risen Lord offers another vision for living. During this stretch of time that we call Ordinary between the Christmas season and Ash Wednesday, we are blessed this year to hear the teachings of the Lord Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), words that are anything but ordinary.

Rather, they provide a clear but demanding road to travel to embrace our identities as Christians, a way of life rooted in God storing up treasures in heaven. The following excerpts from the Sermon are a counterweight to the scourge of violence throughout our world with no one appearing to have a corner on the market with inhumanity.

A stained glass window at St. Gummarus Church in Lier, Belgium depicts the Sermon on the Mount. (Photo courtesy of BigStock)

“Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for mercy will be theirs.”

“Blessed are they who mourn, they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world … and your light must shine before all so that they may see your good works and give praise to your Father in heaven.”

“You have in your Law that you shall not kill, and anyone who kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. Therefore, when offering your gift at the altar, if you should remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and first go to be reconciled with your brother. Then return and offer your gift.”

“Love your enemies. You have heard that it was said: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This will make you children of your Heavenly Father. For he causes his sun to rise on the just and the unjust, and his rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked. If you love only those who love you, what reward will you receive? And if you greet only your brethren, what about that is so extraordinary? Therefore, strive to be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

Some might respond to these Gospel imperatives, get real; this is not the way the world works. God might respond in turn; get real, my world is broken, and your way doesn’t appear to be working.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Pope Francis’ historic mission of peace last week to the Republic of the Congo, to the South Sudan and to other nations in Africa with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Reverend Iain Greenshields, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland is bringing the light of Gospel to these war weary and violence plagued countries. These ambassadors for Christ are pleading for peace, admonishing the political leaders over their failure to stabilize their countries, and in many cases, over their corrupt leadership.

On the other hand, Pope Francis spoke words of encouragement to the youth and young adults to break with the violence and to demand from their civic and religious leaders the paths of peace, stability and development. He also challenged the clergy, Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican, to have a hunger for justice and peace and to not remain on the sidelines out of fear or hopelessness. It’s the Sermon on the Mount nearly two thousand years later.

We pray that the light of the Gospel of justice and peace can bring hope to the South Sudan, to the streets of America, to the cities of the Ukraine and to all who suffer from the oppression of violence in all forms. Like the Pope, the Archbishop and the Moderator, we pray for the desire to hunger and thirst for justice and peace so that our light may reflect the light, mind and heart of Jesus Christ. We are players and not bystanders who need to prevail in this struggle for humanity with far more at stake than who takes home the Super Bowl trophy.