As a history of protestant theology would reveal, we tend to be really inventive and enterprising when it comes to escaping the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. One common approach is to read the Sermon against Paul’s statements on the role of the Mosaic Law, and to see it as designed to reveal our weaknesses and guilt, bringing us to a place of contrition over our inability to live God’s standards. I learned to read it this way early in my Christian experiences, and remember an instance where it meant that I completely missed the point of a bible study group. The whole focus of our time together was to read the Sermon on the Mount as a viable way of life, yet after a few weeks, I reverted to this interpretive matrix, which, when we think outside of our learned frameworks, requires some serious mental gymnastics.
Lofhink states that “Jesus’ ethical instruction must be interpreted against the horizon of his preaching of the reign of God. Only in this way can the problem of the possibility of fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount be answered appropriately (59).” In light of the inauguration of the eschatological kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus, it becomes possible to live in this way. Embracing this would mark a huge shift in the way Christian communities operate, one worth making, but which requires significant revision in our ingrained patterns of thinking and reading scripture. Anyone up to the task?