The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s rallying call

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, 1877 (Wikimedia Commons)

From The New York Times comes yet another testimony to the power of a second-half, come-from-behind exhortation. The Kansas City Chiefs were down by 10 points, with less than 10 minutes to play. Their young quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in no mood to surrender.

“He seen it in some guys’ eyes, they were getting down, including myself,” said receiver Tyreek Hill, whose 44-yard reception on third-and-15 from the Chiefs’ 35-yard line propelled the comeback. “I was like, ‘Man, how are we going to pull this off?’ And he was like: ’10, you’ve got to believe, brother. Like the same faith you’ve had all of your career, you’ve got to believe right now. It’s going to happen, man. I can feel it.’ He brought the guys together, and you saw what happened.”

Patrick Mahomes—now the youngest ever to be named Super Bowl M.V.P.—told his teammates to trust him and to believe in themselves. This was, if you will, Mahomes’s “Sermon in Miami.”

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On Sundays, we hear the Gospels in well-sliced snippets. We may not realize that Jesus’ exhortation—that we should be the salt of the earth and light for the world—comes in the stream of St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Pulling back from these verses, you can take in the breadth of Matthew’s vision.

Christ gives his new “Torah” to chosen disciples. And what is this teaching? Himself. His very person.

This is not a public address. As his ministry begins, Matthew denies that disciples come to Jesus because, like followers of other teachers, they are attracted by his learning. No. Christ commands freshly encountered fishermen to “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (4:19). They respond immediately, Matthew twice tells us. Somehow, they know who speaks to them in Jesus.

It is not that the people are not drawn to this man. Yet Matthew records that “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him” (5:1). What follows is not worldly wisdom, a public proclamation of a teaching. No, Christ gives his new “Torah” to chosen disciples. And what is this teaching? Himself. His very person.

Jesus begins with the beatitudes. Matthew finds it self-evident that Christ realizes all of these qualities in himself. This is who he is. Then, at the close of his benedictions, Jesus stops saying “Blessed are those” and suddenly addresses his disciples directly.

Blessed are you when they insult you
and persecute you and utter every kind of evil
against you [falsely] because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you (5:11-12).

Christ stands in the midst of our fallen world as the chosen one. As such he is blessed. The audacity of his mountainside Torah, his great teaching to his disciples, is that, if we become like him and live as he lives, we will be blessed even if the world assaults us.

Then Christ brings home his second-half rouser: Be the salt of the earth, preserving all that is good! Be the light that shines!

It is not the N.F.L.’s most valuable player who speaks, who says that it is not over, not as long as he remains on the field. It is Christ the Lord. The sermon is so simple. However dark your world, imitate me and all will be well. The question it poses is likewise quite stark: Do we believe him enough to rally?

Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5 Matthew 5: 13-16

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