The Sermon on the Mount, which can be found in Matthew 5-7, is the first of five sermons Jesus delivers in the book of Matthew. That number — 5 — is important. There are five books of the law of Moses, the Torah. In Matthew Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses, who preaches with authority that exceeds that of Moses, and he gives a new Torah. Here in chapter five we find him atop a mountain — like Moses — giving a new law.
On Sunday, February 5 (and probably for several Sundays to come!) we’ll focus on this new law and on the community that received it. Keep in mind that Matthew wrote for a largely Jewish Christian audience living in diaspora after the destruction of the Temple.
Start by looking at the beatitudes in verses 3-11 and thinking about the eight characteristics that mark membership in the new covenant community. Remember that after the destruction of the Temple the Jewish community is in the process of redefining what it means to be faithful to the covenant. Matthew thinks that Christianity — his particular interpretation of it — represents the path forward. Can you see places where he is disagreeing with the newly emerging rabbinic traditions?
Also remember that the Romans would have been newly suspicious of sects that seemed to favor revolution. Is there anything in these verses that suggests how Matthew might have related to the Romans and their suspicions? Remember that Christianity would be suspect for two reasons. First, it’s founder was executed for sedition! Second, it was new. By definition that made it a superstition and not a religion. Religions were regarded as ancient, venerable traditions that were accorded great respect and protection. Superstitions, however, were absurd and sometimes subject to persecution. That reality adds urgency to Matthew’s desire to connect Jesus to Moses.
See you Sunday!