Summertime in Ohio

We finally had a little rain here last week, but it's been hot and dry ever since. On the second of July, we watched the fireworks in a field at the county fairgrounds with some of our neighbors. There were few other people and plenty of room for the girls to run. After breakfast Rosa was ready to go watch the fireworks. She promised that she wouldn't be scared of the "booms", but spent most of the evening with her hands over her ears. Actually, we all had a good time.
Sunday we tried to attend the West Richmond Friends Meeting. It turns out that they were gathering at Quaker Hill with two other meetings from Richmond for a combined worship and potluck. It was a beautiful outdoor meeting, and we got to meet lots of people. We even had lawn chairs in the back of the van from the night before, so we were prepared.
Scot got a job! Actually he started yesterday (Tuesday) at Precision Wood Products, driving a delivery truck, and had to make a delivery to Romeo, Michigan. Today they didn't have a delivery, but he should stay pretty busy driving around Ohio. Tomorrow he's going to Kettering (by Dayton) and Fremont, Ohio (Sandusky county). Lots of hours on the road.
Scot's mom and dad are in need of prayers. They are both having health problems right now, so please remember to hold them in the light.
Our chicken house is coming along, but we are at a standstill until we get a paycheck to buy a few more supplies to finish it up. The walls are standing. It still needs a door, roof, and chicken wire to reinforce the safety of the walls. Also an outdoor run.
The garden is coming up. We have corn, beans, cukes, zucchini, acorn squash, pumpkins, radishes, and sunflowers growing. Lots of weeds too. This morning I put straw around the plants to preserve moisture (our soil is mostly clay) and deter weeds. I don't know what happened to the tomatoes, onions, and peas we planted. Our neighbors gave us a big zucchini from their garden - yum! These are the "beans and rice" days. We haven't had any income for quite a while, still we always manage to have something to eat. God provides!
Micah is becoming quite an expert at rolling over now (belly to back and back to belly). He also seems interested in everyone else's food. When he can sit up on his own, I will consider it.

gettling settled, hen house hi-jinx

we still haven't completely unpacked, and I have yet to find a job, but things are going well for us. We are trying to raise a straw-bale hen house,a nd Jen and I erected a frame to set the straw around. It looks as much like an amature tinker toy project as anything else, but we have confidence it will all wqork out in the end. We have to get pictures of this stuff.

I was supposed to bale straw and hay for work this week, but the weather is not cooperating. It is thunderstorming right now, at 5:30 on Wednesday, and that will put things behind further.

Jenn is doing her best to direct traffic in unloading the wealth of boxes that have collected in our living room, and she accomplidhed quite a bit today.

Walt called last night to say hello, as did Judi. It is great to hear from you all. Walt correctly chastised me for my hyperbole in calling the Kent County Clerk "evil." Perhaps we'll just say she is misguided.

I am thinking about volunteering at a Richmond substance abuse recovery program as part of my ministry down here. I will look into other prospects, but I need to find a job first.

Jenn says to tell you all we have two kittens, named Fox and Penn, and Micah is rolling over, which still leaves him behind the kittens in motor skills. As for cuteness, it's a tie.

What a month: And we've finally made it to OHIO

I am not yet sure what has created more excitement for Jenn and I, the attention that the nurse-in has created, or the fact that we are finally in Ohio. The move to Ohio has been the vehicle for God to bless us through wonderful friends who have helped us make the six hour journey to West Alex. Of course, it has been very uplifting for the most part to read the letters to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press about Jenn and her public stand against the evil county clerk, Mary Holinrake.
First, the move... We had an eventful experience. Cliff and Cathie's whole family fell sick, and they could not make the trip down with us. (They are doing better now, I heard.) But the family patriarch, Grampa JIm, made the trip and drove my van down. Judi filled in at the last second and drove much of our stuff down in the Well House van, because the rental truck we acquired wasn't big enough. Every one made it safely to W.Alex, but not without problems. Besides Cliff and the crew getting sick, and the truck being to small, Mark hurt his ankle helping load the truck, and the shelter van wouldn't start and a new battery had to be purchased. Jenn adn Judi didn't get on the road until nearly five o'clock. When we got everything to the new house, not everything would fit up the stairway to the bedroom, so we had to find a ladder, remove an upstairs window, and take the bed and dresser up that way. We were successful. We went to meeting at West Elkton Friends Meeting, and then visited New Westeville Friends Church that evening. Now I am looking for jobs. Hold us in the Light as we get settled.
Secondly... we have enjoyed hearing about the letters and political cartoons that have appeared in the GR Press. I am glad that such a statement was made, sort of Jenn's parting shot to Grand Rapids and its mixed up "family" values. If only the County Clerk spent as much time addressing the issues of poverty in the city andthe war sponsored by her political party (which ever of the two lays claim to her) instead of harrassing nursing women and other obvious displays of caring and nurturing that might offend the community.
Until next time, work for justice so that we may have peace.

News about public breastfeeding

Last Thursday, June 9, was a nurse-in in downtown Grand Rapids. It was prompted by an incident involving Micah and me (Jenn) at the county clerk's office while I was applying for birth certificates. I was nursing Micah when the clerk approached me and asked me to "cover up with a blanket or go down to the lobby to do that."
Attempts to settle this situation were less than satisfactory. (She still maintains that she will do the same thing in the future should a similar situation occur.) Many people feel the law needs to be clear that a woman does have the right to feed her baby in public. So the nurse-in was to stimulate discussion and urge protection for breastfeeding mothers. See the link for press reports. There was also a nice front page photo of Micah and me in the Grand Rapids Press.


what a sendoff!!!

Thank you everyone who came to wellhouse for our sendoff Friday night. It was fun to have everyone together, Friends and Family, as we get ready to journey into our future and carry on in our family response to God's love for us. Life has certainly been good to us, having a media star in the house. Jenn and Micah have struck a blow for breastfeeding rights, and what a great picture of them on the front page of the GR Press. We have yet to see any TV media coverage of the nurse - in, but I hope it was favorable to the Women (Wymyn!?) who participated. Thank you everyone who was at the Calder. I will tell Jenn to put up an entry as soon as the computers are back on line at Well House.

Emma and I had a great trip to Ohio last weekend. We planted the garden, took delivery on the straw bales for the chicken house, and ate great Chineese. We enjoyed our time together, and attended a great Friends Meeting in West Elkton, OH. It is a 200 year-old gathering of Quakers, and the meetinghouse was almost that old.

Keep looking us up, I hope to be more faithful to the blog in the future.

God's Peace, Scot

A trip for Emma and Dad

Emma has a school play this afternoon, and then we are off to West Alex to put in the garden and do some cleaning in the new house. We will also purchase the straw bales for the hen house. I am looking forward to spening some time with Emma, who has packed 14 books for the two-night trip, not including the two new ones she bought just for the weekend.

Quaker camping in Paris...MI

The family took a wonderful weekend off from working and such to go camping with the Grand Rapids Friends in Paris, Michigan. We had a great time relaxing, eating, sitting around the fire and geocacheing. Emma learned to ride a bike without relying on training wheels, and then took off on an 12 mile ride to Big Rapids. Now we are back, and preparing in earnest for the upcoming move. Emma and I will be traveling to W. Alex on Friday evening to plant the garden and do some more cleaning. Jenn will be home packing. Emma will also be finishing school on June 9, so this is a big couple of weeks for her. It has been a big couple of months for all of us, with Micah being born, and graduation and moving. these are exciting times for us, and our relationship with God is deepening at a new level. The move to Ohio is a leap of faith, and we will be dependent upon the Lord and His people to get by until September, when school starts and I hopefully have a job secured.

It seems Micah may be teething (already?!). He's been unusually fussy the past couple of days. Some families and other interested people will be gathering at the Calder Plaza downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday, June 9 for a "nurse-in". It will be 11:30am-1:00pm and open to anyone supportive of breastfeeding. The idea began when I was nursing Micah in the county clerk's office and was told that I needed to either cover myself with a blanket or go downstairs to the lobby to feed him, because some people are offended by babies being nursed in public. It seems this is not legal in Michigan (or the law is unclear). So we are hoping to have legislation passed that ensures a mother's right to breastfeed her baby in public. Also to exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty for one year and to guarantee mothers who work outside the home have time and space to pump milk or feed their babies without repercussions. So, this plus the move is keeping me hopping. It's good stuff, though.

Quaker Sojourners in Ohio


The Journey Begins

It's time to say good-bye to Well House. My family has been living at this Grand Rapids homeless shelter for 2 1/2 years now, exchanging ministry for a home to live in. Now, we move on to the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana. My wife Jenn, and our three children, (I also have two boys from a prior marriage) are renting a home with three acres and a barn in West Alexandria, Ohio, in hopes of micro-farming while I attend seminary.

I hope this site will keep friends, family, and Friends updated on our experiences as God leads us through this exciting time oinour lives. My wife will add plenty of thoughts, and I will maintain daily contact, commenting on all matters concerning our family, Quakerism in all its diversty (we are Conservative Friends), and whatever else comes up. I hope visitors to our site will take the time to read the theological articles I have posted, and I will encourage Jenn to add articles about breastfeeding as well, as she is a Le Leache League International member.

We move to Ohio on June 17. We will have a going away party on June 10. Send money, mom and dad.
Until tomarrow, So long.

Realized Eschatology in the Sermon on the Mount - I

Part I

Radical. If any single word can be used to describe the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, radical is it. The man Jesus was a radical monotheist who assumed the charismatic role of Messiah, anointed savior not only of Israel, but of all God’s humanity. While some may argue that radicality is presupposed in messianic contenders or pretenders, Jesus made claims against Rome’s authority, and the role of Land, Temple, and Torah in the Jewish national identity that reached beyond the typical first- century claims made by His political and religious contemporaries.

Let the reader beware, however, that in the first century Palestinian setting that gave rise to Jesus’ ministry, there was no distinction between that which was political, and that which was religious. Jesus would have denigrated the very idea of these two aspects of life as being somehow separate. So would have His fellow Jews, who were waiting impatiently for YHWH to act on Israel’s behalf, drive out the hated Roman pagans, and restore the Chosen People to national glory - thus reiterating what Jews had always known - that God was in charge of the world’s destiny and would soon set things straight. While this common place assumption may seem radical in itself, Jesus took the notions of revolution, righteousness, and renewal to a level that few of His disciples fully understood, let alone struggling Jews of first-century Palestine.

The Messiahship of Jesus, and His claim to be the fulfillment of this very Jewish expectation was radical not in the sense that it challenged pagan authority, or even the Temple authority. It was radical in the sense that Jesus challenged the well worn, if not overwrought use of violence as a means to achieve freedom from political and institutional oppression. Jesus was radical, not in His view that the kingdom of God was being inaugurated in His work, but in His proposal of what the kingdom of God entailed. Jesus was radical not only in His adherence to the Law of Moses, but in its interpretation, application, and summation - That God’s People must first of all love God, and then, love one another. And finally, Jesus was radical in the way He defined the kingdom, and those disciples who would live accordingly.

Jesus preached that Israel was failing its purpose. He preached that Land and Law had gotten in the way of God’s intention for Israel. He identified the new people of God as a community of servants that carried out the will of YHWH despite of the claims of Rome, or in spite of the evil hold that inheritance and nationalism had upon Israel. The radicalness of these communities is nowhere as apparent as in the collection of Jesus’ teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount. It is in this text that we find not so much that Jesus was a spiritual guide that promised the reward of heaven to those followers who practiced what He preached. The Sermon on the Mount is a radical text that claims the eschatological act of YHWH in His creation is fully realized in the life and ministry of Jesus through the communities formed by Him and His disciples. This paper will show that the Sermon on the Mount is much more than a simple liturgical teaching tool used by the early church, but is in fact a Messianic order for a socially, politically, and ethically radical community of God. It is this rather than the collection of over-spiritualized proof-texts that modern Christendom has limited to personal applications, or presently unachievable future considerations.

That the contents of the Sermon on the Mount, and other aspects of the gospel of Christ, have been relegated to the spiritual realm of the divine character of Jesus by the modern Church can be documented simply by pointing to the glaring example of “justification by faith, not works” theology that has rendered the ethical commands of Jesus unimportant, if not unattainable by the sinful humanity that makes for church congregations. But if anything is obvious from the text of the Sermon on the Mount, it is that ethics are not only an integral part of the kingdom of God, but are necessary to the corporate salvation of His people everywhere. Salvation is certainly received through the grace of God, yet this grace is experienced only through the ethical and political reality of kingdom communities reflecting the love and obedience of Jesus Christ.

Theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder offers six myths, or popular theological claims that the ethical teaching of Jesus is irrelevant. The first myth is that the ethic of Jesus is an ethic for the interim. His teachings do not account for society’s need to survive. Second, Jesus was a simple rural figure and His radical personalization is only possible in village society. Jesus does not speak to complex organizations, institutions, and power.

The third myth perpetuated by the modern Church is that Jesus and His early followers lived in a world in which they had no control. Modern followers must be responsible for ethical problems inconceivable to those in first-century Palestine. Fourth, the nature of Jesus’ message is ahistorical by definition. Jesus dealt with mainly spiritual issues and not social or political matters. This is especially a favorite of the very conservative groups., and coincides with the typical Sunday School renderings of Jesus the Spiritual Savior of the tortured soul.

The fifth point raised by Yoder that is used to argue against the ethical importance of Jesus is that He was a radical monotheist, and as such, His values relativize all human values. In other words human values and ethics are finite, and unrelateable to the will of God. Finally, Yoder points out that the work of atonement of the gift of justification suggests grace should never be correlated with ethics. As mentioned above, the value of grace renders the life of Jesus ethically immaterial.

My thesis takes all of these myths into account, and while I do not address them individually, the general claim and tone of each claim made by these six myths is challenged and rendered impotent. By reading the text in a manner that treats the ethical teaching of Jesus as part of a realized eschatology made evident by Messianic communities, we overturn the over-spiritualized readings of the modern Church popular since Augustine, if not Constantine.

However, this reading of the Sermon on the Mount and related ethics is not a radical as it may seem. To this extent, much of the material used to inform the reader and persuade in favor of a reading that accepts the realized eschatological value of the Sermon on the Mount is taken from mainstream commentaries. The foundation of background for my interpretation of the material comes from Betz’s classic work on the text, the Word Biblical Commentary on Matthew written by Donald Hagner, and The New Interpreters Bible commentary by Eugene Boring. Far from offering unsupported readings of the text, the work of these scholars underlines the fact of radical community and obedience called for by the Sermon on the Mount. I offer background on the Gospel of Matthew, definitions of eschatology and kingdom terminology, and historical considerations of the first-century political, economic and religious environment that all support a reading that stresses realized eschatology and ethical commands made by Jesus that remain pertinent to the modern Church.

Accordingly, I will show that the Sermon on the Mount calls modern believers to a radical faith that is lived out not in adherence to institutional renderings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but in communities of radically obedient servants who faithfully live up to the standards made normative by Jesus. For if Jesus, in the fullness of His humanity, is not normative for our own humanity, “what has become of the meaning incarnation?” Indeed, if the early followers of Jesus as portrayed in scripture are not ethically normative for the modern church, what has become of revelation? Presently, I will review this biblical material, beginning with an overview of the Gospel of Matthew, and continuing through until an exhaustive reading of the Sermon on the Mount has shown that the ethical mandate of Jesus is indeed relevant to the salvation of God’s People.

Part II

“The book of the genesis of Jesus the Messiah…”

In his seminal work regarding the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter SM) W.D. Davies comments that the Greek word genesios, most often translated in English language Bibles as “genealogy” in Matthew 1:1 is an obvious allusion to the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Matthean prologue “sets forth Jesus as the inaugurator of a new world or creation…the agent of the Messianic age.” The genealogy that opens the Book of Matthew reckons Jesus as the Messiah by virtue of a royal bloodline traced to King David, but that opening verse - “the genesis of Jesus the Messiah…” -suggests much more.

While the genealogy traces Jesus’ roots back to Abraham, the term genesis is used in the Gospel as a literal reference to the birth of the universe, and in turn, the birth of the first adam. The author intends a parallel between Jesus and Adam and takes it through to a child that is heralded as God’s anointed. Later, an angel appears to that child’s father and in a famous piece of literary foreshadowing states, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

The Gospel of Matthew “can be understood as the story of Jesus… and how [H]e fulfils the layers and levels of the prophesies of God.” This is the literary context in which we find the Sermon on the Mount.

The Gospel of Matthew has been appointed as the inaugurate Greek Testament witness in accordance with a history of reverence from the church. Eugene Boring establishes the book as a “favorite of early catholic Christianity.” Matthew was always the first book included in pre-canon manuscripts and is the most-oft quoted by early church fathers.

In Matthew, the kingdom of heaven reigns supreme. The author focuses not only on “God’s guarantee of forgiveness and salvation which Jesus proclaims” but it centers on the moral or ethical exhortation to all of the Messiah’s disciples. If you want to establish the reign of God in Palestine, the words of Matthew are the earmarks of the community that best reflects that reality. These ethos are “condensed” in the SM. One commentator writes that” Matthew presents a theological textbook for the church (both leaders and members) to instruct them concerning the person and work of Jesus.”

Traditionally, the church has attributed authorship of this Gospel to Matthew, the tax collector called by Jesus to be a disciple in Matthew 9:9. Papias, the Bishop of Hieropolis, is quoted by the fourth-century church historian Eusibius as suggesting that “…Matthew recorded the oracles in Hebrew speech.” Early manuscripts, however, do not bear the usual marks of translation, but appear to be written originally in Greek. It is likely, according to R.H. Gundry, that Papias meant Matthew was “a Hebrew way of presenting Jesus’ Messiahship.”

Most scholars, however, agree that the author of the Gospel of Matthew is unknown. J.N Davies puts forth that the “compilation may be the work of a Diaspora Jewish Christian, probably of Antioch, who was well versed in Hebrew Scripture.” C.F.D. Moule, though, sees merit in tradition, claiming “The writer of the Gospel was himself a well-educated scribe…But so must also have been that tax collector called by Jesus to be a disciple.”

Regardless of authorship, the scribe writes “…as a Jew for Jews. This book is thoroughly Jewish in character. It is saturated in Old Testament thought and is deeply rooted in Palestinian soil.” Boring states that while “Matthew was influenced by and makes use of ideas that were in the air in the Hellenistic world,” the book shows no signs of direct literary influence from non-Jewish sources. While similarities to pagan writings exist in segments such as the “beatitudes” of 5:3-12, they are more firmly rooted in the Hebrew tradition. Boring finds the author of Matthew “exclusively” limited to influences stemming from Jewish and Christian documents. Yet, while Matthew has the seeming “earmarks” of Jewish Christianity, a broader spectrum of development is identifiable.

Matthew “contains some of the harshest words against Jewish leaders anywhere in the New Testament,” according to N.T. Wright. Indeed, many commentators have duly noted a pro-Gentile bias (which Boring calls “strong”) in Matthew. Daniel Patte states that the Gospel is “Both deeply Jewish and painfully anti-Jewish.”

Yet the Jewish foundation of the Gospel by no means dictates that the book was intended to convert non-Christian Jews into the Messianic movement centered around Jesus. Boring states that Matthew is written “for members of (his own) community to instruct them in their own faith and to clarify it over and against misunderstandings, not as an evangelistic or apologetic writing directed to outsiders.”

The author of Matthew is writing to a community of Jewish Christians that are surrounded in their setting by other Jews who are discriminating against the Messianic sect. While some more conservative scholars date the Gospel as early as circa 60 C.E., many more place the date of authorship as post-Jewish War. Schnackenburg dates Matthew as late as 85-90 C.E., and while this date seems likely it must be acknowledged that the book uses sources and contains traditions that were foundational to the author’s community well before the fall of Jerusalem.

Scholars generally hold that there are three sources standing behind the Matthean account. The first is the Gospel of Mark (65 C.E.?). The second is the often cited but hypothetical “Q” source of sayings commonly attributed to Jesus, speculated to have circulated around 50 C.E. A third source, possibly derived from the church at Jerusalem, or Antioch, and unique to the Gospel of Matthew is named “M.”

Despite the availability of at least the aforementioned sources (the author was not likely a firsthand witness) and their foundation in a solid oral tradition, some scholars believe much of the dialogue in Matthew’s Gospel cannot be attributed to Jesus. Form criticism and the lectionary and liturgical needs of the early church are cited as reasons for doubting the authenticity of dictum attributed to Jesus. There is, however, no solid reasoning that stands in the way of assigning authenticity to all of Jesus’ dialogue in the Gospel. As we shall see below the leader of a revolutionary/messianic movement would certainly not only be capable of language that would be widely quoted and preserved in various forms. He would also be capable of weaving socio-economic thought, moral and ethical values, and political strategy into a long-standing religious praxis through the use of symbolism, story-telling with socially charged double-meanings, and parabolic and metaphoric discourse.

In fact, it is quite acceptable to envision Jesus as taking His ministry throughout Palestine, addressing the national crisis that enveloped Palestinian Jewish society, as well as the special circumstances of each town or synagogue in a manner that called clearly the Jewish peoples into God’s historic action readily apparent in the work and ministry of the Christ. Indeed, every word would have been duly stored in memories for subsequent retellings that would be common throughout the region where revolutionary activity was building.

This would account for some of the differences we see in the gospel renderings of parables, dialogue, and so forth. A perfect example of this is the parable of the landowner and the tenants in Matthew 21:33-41 and Luke 20:9-19. His disciples were sent out to preach His kingdom inauguration in the same manner of preaching in teaching a message that would soon become the gospel accounts of the messianic movement.

As for Jesus’ preaching and teaching, Matthew is written in a manner well known to first-century Jews. The Gospel is structured so as to facilitate learning by memory. There are three distinctions to the Book of Matthew that bear this out.

Matthew is the sum of five major discourses in which clusters of teachings appear. Chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-26 are each a component with similar endings found at 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, and 26:1.

There are also three junctures at which the words “from that time” appear (4:17, 16:21, and 26:16) leading into critical actions: Jesus beginning to preach the kingdom, asserting the facts of His Jerusalem mission, and predicting His betrayal.

The third distinction, according to Chamblin, is the author’s “emphasis on the ministry and Passion” of Jesus. Chamblin also identifies three major theological motifs in the Gospel.

First, Jesus is the Son of God, YHWY incarnate (1:23 “God is with us“). Second, Jesus inaugurates the kingdom. Third, Jesus reconstitutes the covenant people and establishes “the church.” One should beware, however, of possibly misunderstanding this last point. The author of Matthew is not staking a claim for a new religion. Matthew is not about “Christianity over and against a different religion, Judaism. Nor does it regard the church as the “New Israel…” In Matthew we see a continuation of the established people of God, with the praxis and hope still identifiable, but radically altered and expanded upon in the ministry of Jesus. There are other aspects of Matthew, its structure, and content, that bear mention.

The book is similar to other Jewish literary works in that it may be broken down into five sections, such as Psalms, Proverbs etc. Each of these sections are divided into two parts, those being narrative and discourse. A prologue (chpts. 1-2) claims the birth of a king. The first of the five sections begins with a narrative of Jesus’ baptism and temptation in chapters three and four, followed by the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount of chapters five through seven.

The second section begins with a narrative in chapters eight and nine, of Jesus’ healing activity (8:1-17, 9:1-8), His invitation to disciples (8:18-22, 9:9-13), and His authority (8:28-34, 9:14-17). This is followed by the chapter ten discourse concerning the mission charge to the disciples. Thirdly, chapters 11 and 12 bring a narrative of Jesus’ disputes with religious opponents (12ff) and His rejection by them (12:38ff). This is followed by the parabolic discourse focusing on the kingdom of heaven in chapter 13.

The fourth section of Matthew sees a leading narrative in chapters 14-17, where Jesus feeds the five thousand (14:13ff), walks on water (14:22ff), brings purity laws into question (15:1-20), and identifies Himself to the Syrophoenician woman. The chapter 15 narrative also includes the feeding of the four thousand (15:32ff), and finally - in chapter 16 - Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah (16:13ff). Jesus then predicts His death 16:21ff) and is transfigured before Peter, James, and John (17:1ff). We then see the discourse of chapter 18 where Jesus shares instructions on living by the kingdom of Heaven.

The final section, chapters 19-22, is the narrative that includes passages on Jesus’ authority (21:23), more parabolic teaching (21:33ff) and contests with opponents (22:15,23,41). The discourse that follows in chapters 23-25 contains woes pertaining to opponents of the kingdom of Heaven (23:13-36), eschatology (24:1-51) and those seeking to enter the kingdom (25:1, 14, 31). The book of Matthew then concludes with the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Boring further breaks down Matthew into a familiar chiastic structure that is well known in Jewish literature.

A. chpts. 1-4 birth and beginnings narrative

B. 5-7 blessings, entering the kingdom discourse

C. 8-9 authority and invitation narrative

D. 10 mission discourse discourse

E. 11-12 rejection by this generation narrative

F. 13 parables of the kingdom discourse

E. 14-17 acknowledgement by disciples narrative

D. 18 community discourse discourse

C. 19-22 authority and invitation narrative

B. 23-25 woes, entering the kingdom discourse

A. 26-28 death and rebirth narrative

The five sections of Matthew are easily identifiable by end cap sayings that read “When Jesus had finished…” as mentioned above. The fact that the five sections are so clearly divided is considered to be more than simply representative of Jewish teaching techniques or literary structure. Many scholars consider the sections to be representative of the Hebrew Bible’s Pentateuch.

We have already reviewed the similarities between the opening verses of Matthew and the Hebrew Testament’s Book of Genesis. There are obvious parallels between the first and second chapters of Matthew and the Book of Exodus as well. These include similarities between Herod and Pharaoh, the massacres of the children, and the flight to Egypt.

W.D. Davies is one scholar who believes the parallels with the Pentateuch are overdrawn. He questions whether the formulaic endings at the end of each section is anything more that a literary link common to Jewish Scripture. Indeed, chapter three and John’s baptism on the Jordan is an obvious parallel to Israel’s crossing the Jordan into the promised land in the Book of Joshua, the first book after the Pentateuch. Davies feels that the parallels are not “rigid” enough in their arrangement, and if they were supposed to mirror the first five books of the Hebrew Testament “they would have been more obvious.”

Davies is also critical of the popular vision of Jesus as “the New Moses.” In his book on the SM Davies claims “there is no sufficient evidence…and restraint is shown” in supposed Matthean and Pentateuch unity. Yet while Davies’ work concerning Matthew as the context for the Sermon on the Mount is widely acknowledged as superior, most disagree with his claim that the parallelism is subdued.

Wright offers a valuable compromise. He writes that while “the Pentateuch is indeed a clue,” Matthew should not be seen as a mere “sequence of five books, nor simply a scheme of slavish repetition…Rather, Wright purposes the Pentateuch seen as a covenant and summarized as such in Deuteronomy 27-30.” This covenant, according to Wright, is what the author of Matthew had in mind while using traditional Jewish literary form to arrange his material. Wright also addresses the issue of Jesus portrayed in Matthew as the “new Moses.”

Jesus, like Moses, goes to [H]is death with promises ringing in [H]is ears. After [H]is resurrection, Jesus, like Moses, goes up to the mountain and departs from [H]is people, leaving them with a commission to ‘possess the land’…Matthew presupposes a telling of the Jewish story according to which Israel has failed, has ended in exile, and needs a new exodus, and he undertakes to show that this new exodus was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The author does this on multiple levels. The fulfillment passages are simply the tip of the iceberg. “Matthew’s plot and structure…claim to be bringing about that of which Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 30...Jesus, for Matthew, is both the new David and the new Moses, but also something more. He is YHWH. He is the fulfillment of prophecy in Deuteronomy 31:6, ’He shall cross ahead, defeat the nations, and will not forsake His people.’”

All in all, Matthew could be considered a type of farce despite the tragedy. At every instance, someone is seeking to prevent Jesus from establishing the kingdom, all the while driving Him to engage in the real conflict and seeing Him ultimately succeed. “The Gospel ends with a beginning” says Wright, “as disciples are sent out to preach to the whole world.” Yet this end “presupposes a previous story…” Matthew is invoking the long standing story of Israel and it’s God.

Growing up within this narrative early in the first century, but soon to break out after the fall of Jerusalem, is the church. Interestingly, the book of Matthew is the only Gospel that uses the designation “church” (ekklesia). The church, according to Schnackenburg, “is the community of salvation Jesus sought to form (16:18)…It is presented concretely in the local community in the assembly of those belonging to it. The church is essential to Matthew’s concept of salvation history: the new people of God intimately bound up in the Messiah.”

So our brief overview of Matthew informs us of the literary context of the Sermon on the Mount, but it also tells us a bit about the early Palestinian church community. In Matthew, the kingdom of Heaven is paramount to the author’s intent. We see that Matthew is not trying to win over new Jewish converts, but is establishing how the new people of God, the church, reflect the kingdom that Jesus and His disciples initiate. Matthew is the blueprint for the community that is to reflect the kingdom of Heaven.

As Messiah, Jesus calls Jewish followers who establish communities in concordance with the long standing praxis of Israel, but they follow Jesus’ lead in altering its final destination. Israel would certainly be saved, but not in the way it had been expecting. Matthew is the tool to incorporate this teaching - this inaugurated kingdom of Heaven, this old and ancient narrative of Israel turned upside down, and the resurrection of Jesus - as the foundation of these new communities

Part III.

How lovely on the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings the good news

Who announces peace

And brings good news of happiness

Who announces salvation

And says to Zion “Your God reigns!”

What does it mean for this new community to build upon the “kingdom of heaven“? What meanings can we find in the phrase? Jesus states in the synoptics:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

“I must preach the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

At first, the Matthean announcement stands apart due to the differing terminology. The “kingdom of heaven,” which is Matthew’s usual expression (33 times), is nothing more than an alternative rendering of “the reign of God.” Heaven is merely a Jewish circumlocution for God.

God’s kingdom was originally pictured in historic terms, such as the restoration of the Davidic empire. Nationalist hopes for Israel’s redemption and restoration were commonplace. “The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ carried unambiguously the hope that YHWH would act…within history to vindicate Israel.”

As I have concluded above, Jesus was using well known and well understood language, despite the wealth of variations and layers of meanings often attributed to kingdom language. When He heralded the reign of God, or the “kingdom of heaven,” He evoked an ancient storyline that had been heard often. Yet Jesus told the story in “such a way as to subvert and redirect its normal plot.” Wolfgang Schrage states that “Jesus obviously understood [H]is own ministry in word and deed as a sign of (the kingdom’s) appearance.”

There is however, amongst Christians of various stripes, a “prolonged debate on the time reference of the phrase ‘kingdom of (heaven/God).” Some assign a “thoroughgoing eschatology” to Matthew and the other Gospel accounts concerning kingdom language and dictums as belonging to a final or “end-time” catalyst of God’s work in creation.

There is also a school of “inaugurated” eschatology, which claims that the life and work of Jesus is simply the beginning of a process. Obviously, God’s work concerning redemption, salvation and restoration of creation is an ongoing process. But often, commentators have avoided the political and social implications of Jesus’ kingdom announcement by assigning a more easily adapted future realization of kingdom promises.

This reading of the eschatology of the gospel is focusing on a “realized eschatology” - that the kingdom is present and active in not only the ministry of Jesus, but the living response to Jesus’ ministry in a very real and dynamic way.

George Caird states that “It is true that Matthew shows more interest in a final crisis of history,” especially in the “end of the age” phrases. Matthew is the only Gospel to use the word parousia, and the author, on occasion, speaks as though entry into the kingdom is a final reward.

Placing the emphasis on realized eschatology, however, provides a different perspective. When Jesus speaks of “the end of an age,” a more appropriate translation would be “consummation.” Jesus is talking about the time when false claims to God’s throne, a corrupt temple aristocracy, and Israel’s disobedience and idolatry reaps what has been sown. We are hearing Jesus’ prophetic voice ringing in the ears of His disciples, that if Israel continues along a path of violence, racism and materialism, the world will come crashing down around them. It did. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. represent the accuracy of Jesus’ warning, not of the end of the world, but of God acting in history in an unmistakable way that was felt by all of Israel.

Scholars talk about the use of the Greek word parousia as used in a manner that denotes the “second coming of Jesus.” While Jesus’ return is certainly rightly anticipated by believers of all persuasions, this is not what Jesus was talking about. Parousia should be interpreted as “presence” as it is used in contradiction to apousia, or “absence.” Parousia is used most often in reference to the “arrival” of royalty or official visitors.

End-time references, if that is what they really are, are certainly “balanced by an equal interest in the presence of the kingdom in… the life of the church.” The Judaism of Jesus’ day looked for a historic eschaton. Schrage writes “Through [H]is ministry, Jesus brings the effectual presence of the kingdom into the realm of historical reality…The thrust of Jesus’ message is rather to show that the eternal and transcendent kingdom (of heaven) is at work in the here and now.”

N.T. Wright states:

Far more important to the first-century Jew than questions of space, time and cosmology were the key issues of temple, land, and Torah; or race, economy and justice. When Israel’s [G]od acted, Jews would be restored to their ancestral rights and would practice their ancestral religion with the rest of the world looking on in awe.

That is not to say that Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom did not belong along side the Jewish apocalyptic of His day. It was not, however, a signal that cosmic catastrophe was around the corner. It was not the end of the world that was being projected, but Satan’s fall from dominance over the created order. Richard Horsley writes “The presence of the kingdom of God meant the termination of the old order.” The kingdom of God/Heaven being an announcement of the end of the world, according to Wright, makes no sense in the context of the first-century Jewish world-view, expectation, and hope.

What, then is meant by “eschatology” if not the “end of the world”? What is the kingdom of heaven if not “the future reward of believers”? Horsley defines eschatology as an all-transforming act of God. “God’s action in the coming of the kingdom would be ‘final’ not in the sense of ‘last’ or ‘the end,’ but only in the sense of ‘finally,’ or ‘at last.’” If “the end” or “Armageddon” is not in store, though, what does kingdom language represent?

The focal concern of the ‘kingdom of God’ in Jesus’ preaching and practice…is the liberation and welfare of the people…He had utter confidence that God was restoring the life of society, and that this would mean judgment for those who oppressed people and vindication for those who faithfully attended to God’s will and responded to the kingdom.

Now we realize that what “kingdom” meant to Jesus’ listeners was something very tangible, and not “pie in the sky” spiritualized myth. The word “kingdom” is translated from the Greek work basileia. The word is a rather ambiguous term which comprehends three possible senses: sovereignty, reign and realm. Walter Wink adds another possibility: Basileia = “New Reality.”

John Howard Yoder writes:

It hardly needs to be argued that ‘kingdom’ is a political term…The language ‘kingdom’ and good news is chosen from the political realm…The kingdom of God is a social order, and not a hidden one.”

Horsley, again, identifies the kingdom as a “political metaphor or symbol” and states that Jesus’ ministry and action is representative of “socio-political…human relations as willed by God.” Indeed, to the disciple of Jesus, to the first-century Christian, to the community of believers living out God’s “New Reality,” the kingdom of Heaven exemplifies the hope that Israel’s God is going to rule the world - and according to Wright, “Caesar, or Herod, or anyone else of their ilk is not.”

I have now established that Jesus acted and spoke in socio-political terms, as well as spiritual, in his Messianic movement. But was it Jesus’ intention to found a church? Wright says no, “because there already was (a church), namely, the people of Israel…” Wright feels it was not Jesus’ plan to found a differing community. Yet it is my contention that His ministry so intended to subvert traditional Judaism and radicalize faith that future separation was certain. Jesus’ kingdom announcement included calling forward individuals and groups committed to living out His renewal effort. The matter of ethics is introduced by Jesus as a way of making the kingdom inaugurated by Him as visible marker of His messiahship within existing Jewish communities, and a reflection of the true will of God.

Wright states that “eschatology” in this case means not the end of the world, but rescue and renewal not only of Israel, but the world. “Ethics here means a [G]od-given way of life for those caught up in this renewal.” Horsley writes: “Jesus’ overall perspective was that God was bringing an end to the demonic and political powers dominating [H]is society so that no renewal of individual and social life would be possible.” This renewal, and the call by Jesus for His followers are easily identifiable amongst many first-century movements that were socially and politically subversive. “If Israel’s God was going to become king, there were many who were eager to be kingmakers by whatever means might prove necessary.”

Revolutionary opposition by Jews to the Roman empire and the Jewish aristocracy was widespread throughout Palestine. “There was widespread banditry of various sorts in the Palestine of Jesus’ day…there was a fluid relationship between banditry and other popular movements.” We can easily identify an ongoing undercurrent of uprising and class-war mentalities.

John Driver identifies four political alternatives that typify the Palestinian Jewish response to Roman imperial rule. The first was that of “prudent collaboration” as witnessed in the activity of the Sadducees and the Herodians, from whom the aristocracy found its members. While thoroughly Jewish, these groups stood to lose the most if revolution were to strike, and they worked closely with the Romans to continue the status-quo.

The second method Driver identifies he labels “withdrawal and retreat.” This is best exemplified by the Essene community that lived a separate existence at the desert Qumran community. It should be mentioned, however, that Josephus mentions members of the Essene sect living in an urban environment as well. There was “symbolic separation” which is the method Driver attributes to the Pharisees. Pharisees felt that by strict adherence to God’s law and the maintaining of racial and religious purity, they could influence YHWH to act on Israel’s behalf.

Finally, Driver identifies the Zealots, who whether an organized community of revolutionaries or radicalized individual members of other communities, responded to imperial rule with overt violence.

Jesus’ response, not only to Rome but the Jewish aristocracy and temple leadership as well, was to establish “cells of followers” who would live according to Jesus’ kingdom ethics within the parameters of their existing community. As we see from scripture, John the Baptist’s disciples, and groups adhering to Pharisee teaching, were recognizable as small collectives within their local communities. Everyone could easily identify these sectarian movements and their praxis. It would be wrong to assign community or sectarian status to Jesus’ followers in a strictly post-resurrection sense. Jesus saw his followers, and they saw themselves as a distinct group within the Jewish tradition before the cross came to be.

Horlsey defines these local sects of Jesus’ followers as based on “socio-economic cooperation and autonomy.” The focus by the community on forgiveness of debts and others stands out as does Jesus’ concern for poverty that is so evident in the Gospels.

Wright states “(Jesus) certainly did mount what may be called a social revolution, since to persuade even small group within villages to change their behavior to the extent outlined [i.e. the SM] represented a serious challenge to existing practices.” How did these revolutionaries carry out Jesus’ Messianic plans among the Jewish population of Palestine?

This “called out” community spoke in symbolic, practical and theological terms. Everything it spoke about concerned God’s acting in history. Being a part of this new community meant developing new socio-economic thinking. There was Caesar, of course, but there was also subversive and revolutionary though at the foundation of the community. Though it was submissive to authority in many ways - the “early church was marked out from the first as a familial community whose loyalty overrode all other considerations.

Jesus called people in local village communities to take economic responsibility for each other in the desperate national circumstances of the time. The community He was developing was made up largely of people who had little or nothing themselves. They were called to share willingly the things that they have, and remarkably, to share even with their enemies or those who hate them. He addresses a peasantry that stands opposite the “wealthy, well-fed and satisfied with life.” Many peasants were heavily in debt (see above) to the point of forfeiting their land. In the circumstances of first-century Palestine, one could expect and even forgive a certain amount of resentment against the wealthy.

“For most peasants in early first-century Galilean and Judean villages” writes Horsley, “the squabbles of day-to-day life were integrally related to externally determined circumstances in which they had to fight with their backs to the wall.” Some of these peasants, overwhelmed and fed up with the status quo, and welcoming Jesus’ kingdom announcement, set out to spread the “good news of the kingdom.”

The itinerant work of Jesus’ disciples would not have been thought of by other first-century Jews as what might presently be referred to as a religious movement. It would have seemed that they were “enthusiasts for a new revolutionary movement. That is why they were to expect opposition.” It would have been taken for granted, unthinkable otherwise, that the Messianic movement would have any other than a religious context.

With this reading of the gospel, we should understand that Jesus was by no means a teacher of “timeless truths” or of “cosmic catastrophe.” The old Sunday School identity of Jesus as a sage or kindly teacher of God’s ways will have to go. Jesus was a Messiah making a call for Jewish listeners to turn the world upside down according to the dictates of YHWH. But as we shall see in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, the call was radically different than how Jewish believers thought God would act through a Messiah.

The social and political situation in first-century Palestine was characterized by turbulence, by foreign oppression, crushing tax burdens, and economic misery. Palestine was home to injustices perpetrated by both Rome and the Jewish aristocracy. It was home to violence on behalf of both oppressor and oppressed. There was terrorism and militarism and evil throughout. But while it would be wrong to suggest that there were no undercurrents of violent revolutionary intentions in Jesus’ world, it would be equally misguided to insist that, in speaking of the kingdom, Jesus must have aligned Himself with those violent aspirations.

There were other messianic movements within the general time of Jesus’ ministry. There were revolutionaries who committed themselves to the murder of any apparent enemy of YHWH. Other messianic movements confronted the sins of Israel and concerned themselves with a rich tapestry of apocalyptic and eschatological thought. But unlike adherents to other messianic movements, as we will see in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ followers do not destroy, but restore. They offer healing to the sick, relief to the suffering, acceptance to the rejected, hope to those who are impoverished, and life to the dying.

The Messianic movement of Jesus was thoroughly non-violent. His announcement of establishing the kingdom through non-violent means is unquestionable when reading the gospel with either a spiritualist or materialist filter. Non-violence was not unheard of in the Palestinian Jewish community of Jesus’ era.

Yoder, as well as Horsley point out, and the first-century historian Josephus records, that “effective non-violent resistance was not at all unknown in (the) Jewish experience” There were non-violent and non-cooperative tax protests against Rome which declared “no king but YHWH.” There was a mass protest during the administration of Ventidius Cumanus, where a soldier ripped a Torah scroll during a punishment raid by the Roman army in response to a highway robbery. Jews marched in a non-violent protest of the soldier’s act, and the soldier was executed.

Another non-violent response to Roman oppression came during the reign of Caligula, who tried to erect a statue of himself in the temple. The Jewish response was to meet an officer of the emperor at the city of Ptolemais while thousands of Jews engaged in a general agricultural strike. This collective act of pacifist resistance was a second successful non-violent action. There was another act of non-violent resistance that took place just three years before Jesus’ ministry began, and the stories of it may have had a profound effect on His Messianic intentions.

In 26 C.E. at the beginning of the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea, Pilate wintered Roman troops in Jerusalem. Along with the troops came busts of the emperor - surely idolatrous in the eyes of the Judeans. In response, Jewish protesters marched to the palace in Caesarea and prostrated themselves around Pilate’s residence for five days. When Pilate called upon soldiers to remove the protesters, they collectively bared their necks to the sword rather then see Torah be broken. Pilate called off the soldiers and moved the busts from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

“Jesus insisted that fighting the battle of the kingdom with the enemy’s weapons,” says Wright, “meant that one had already lost in principle, and would soon lose it terribly in practice.”

The prophets had warned Israel of the consequences of compromising with pagan cults, Jesus warned of compromising with pagan politics…Jesus denounced, as no better than the pagans, those who not only compromised with Caesar by playing his power games, but also those who compromised with him by thinking to defeat him with his own weapons.

In our reading of the Gospel of Matthew, kingdom language, eschatology, and community praxis, we get a rather complete sense of the context of the Sermon on the Mount. We will study the text from the standpoint of its being written for a community of Jewish Christians who reflected a present realization of the kingdom of Heaven/God by living out ethics established by Jesus and His disciples during pre-Easter Messianic exhortation and action. That Jesus’ followers and the early church were non-violent will be established firmly by our reading of the Sermon on the Mount. That ethics are established as reflective of the kingdom will be established as well. From there, we will assume the task of determining what this ethic established in the SM means for the Body of Christ in the 21st century and beyond. Non-violence in the manner of Jesus Christ will be key to this understanding.

Part IV

The Spirit if the Lord God is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me-

To bring good news to the afflicted;

He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

And freedom to prisoners;

To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,

And the day of vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn,

To grant those who mourn in Zion,

Giving them garland instead of ashes,

The oil of gladness instead of mourning,

The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting,

So they will be called oaks of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified…

Isaiah 61:1-3

“…and He began to teach them, saying…”

Seemingly standing apart as the beacon that calls God’s people to the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount is a compelling series of statements identifying the qualities of a community called out to reflect God’s reign. Known commonly as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), these verses of Matthew’s Gospel demand a soul searching reflection from the reader or listener. Often, due to these standards set by Jesus in the beatitudes, some disregard their importance due to the inability of so many to make these teachings a standard of their own.

The word beatitude is derived from the Latin beatitudo, which corresponds to the Greek makarusmos. Makaros is translated into the English “blessed.” Beatitudes are not original to the Greek Testament, as the basic form is found throughout Jewish and Pagan literature.

Beatitude style works are found frequently in ancient Egyptian literature as well as Greek, but Hans Betz writes that the beatitudes of the SM are “drawn…from a longstanding Jewish matrix” as seen in Isaiah 61:1-11, and throughout Hebrew wisdom and prophecy literature.

There are four major characteristics of the beatitudes. Betz lists them as 1) having a ritualistic function; 2) having the quality of declarative statements; 3) an orientation that reflects both future and realized eschatology; and 4) they are firmly connected with Christian ethics and morality.

The final form of the beatitudes is somewhat questioned by scholars. Hagner states “It is difficult to determine the extent to which the Matthean form of the beatitudes are the creation of the evangelist.” Most scholars agree that the core of the statements goes back to the historical Jesus, who, according to Boring “reversed the general value system by pronouncing blessings on the poor, the hungry, and those who weep.

Boring attributes Matthew 5:3,4,6 and their Lukan parallels to the Q source. Matthew 5:5;7-9 may be attributed to the M source. Boring attributes Matthew 5:11-12 to an early community prophet. Verse 5:8 simply seems to stand apart from the rest.

Regardless of Matthean sources, I suggest that each of the ten beatitudes originates from the mouth of Jesus, and were duly recorded by the source authors. I will not attribute any statement from 5:3-12 to an origination in the Q or M authors’ imagination, nor to early church mythology. This, of course, does not mean that all of the beatitudes in the SM were always in their present form. Most scholars agree that verses 11-12 (While still originating with Jesus, are a later addition to what originally circulated through the Matthean community. There is a significance to this arrangement of an original eight statements followed by the addition of a later two.

Verses 5:3-10 make eight, which symbolized perfection in Jewish thought. The number ten does as well. These numbers of perfection set the tone for “perfection” as a concept important to the SM. Schnackenburg identifies numerical symbolism as playing an important role throughout the Gospel of Matthew - with the author preferring numbers that symbolized perfection and fullness. For example, there are three generations of 14 in 1:2-17. There are three exercises of piety in 6:1-18. There are three parables in 21:28-22:14 as well as 12:40; 17:4; and 23:8-10. There are seven parables in chapter 13, ten miracles of healing, ten bridesmaids, and ten talents. There are 12 tribes and apostles.

More important than origin and form, however, is the richness of the beatitudes and the SM as a whole. This is not “a mere miscellany of ethical instruction” writes Wright. “It is rather, as it stands, a challenge for Israel to be Israel.” The promises of the beatitudes that once assured blessings to those who followed Torah, however, are now promised to those who are part of Jesus’ kingdom community.

Betz reflects that “the SM…sums up what the Jesus movement regarded as the essentials for disciples to know and always bear in mind.” Commentators spell this out:

Whatever they have meant to subsequent hearers or readers…The beatitudes can be read, in some such way, as an appeal to Jesus’ hearers to discover their true vocation as the eschatological people of YHWH, and to do so by following the praxis he was marking out for them, rather than the way of other would be leaders of the time.

As eschatological blessings, the beatitudes are not “entrance requirements” for outsiders but a declaration for insiders. Nor do they form an introduction or prolegomenon to the heart of the sermon…they are gospel, not law, the kerygmatic basis of the didactic core of the Sermon.

Boring writes that the beatitudes do not set the standard for conversion. They “declare the notae ecclesia, the ‘marks of the church.’” These marks are ethical mandates of a community transformed by God.

The ethical mandates of the beatitudes, however, are that once the community hears itself blessed by God, it must reflect that blessing. It does not sit idly by reaping benefits, but acts accordingly to spread the blessing of the kingdom throughout the world.

As we will discover, the beatitudes, like the SM in its entirety, are not reflecting entirely an future-oriented system of behavior and end-time reward. They address the very real and tangible socio-economic climate of the first-century Jesus movement. They are spiritual at their core, but address issues far wider than can be rendered by a simple spiritualist reading. The beatitudes firmly address the material situation of the early Christian movement.

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The first issue addressed is poverty. What kind of poverty is widely debated. The opening blessing is the eschatological fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2.

Greek philosophical writings, Jewish wisdom and apocalyptic, the community at Qumran, and early church fathers, all describe the “human condition” as one of poverty, desertion and misery. Betz regards Matthew 5:3 as “the starting point of an ethic.” “Ptoxos pneumati” is “poor in spirit,” but does it refer to economic poverty, voluntary poverty, spiritual humility - it must be determined contextually, was it economic or figurative?

Hagner identifies the subject of 5:3 as a reference to the “frame of mind of the literally poor.” Poverty in spirit, however, had become a mark of religious piety and wisdom in rabbinic Judaism. In Greek thought, poverty of spirit was seen in terms of self-awareness of one’s own human mortality and finitude.

The “piety of the poor” has deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures and has an entire history of its own: The Magnificat of Luke 1:46-55, and Jesus’ proclamation of salvation for the poor in Luke 4:18 (following Isa. 61:1). Members of the Qumran sect regarded themselves as “poor” or “humble” - at times with the addition of “in spirit.”

However, the “poor” of 5:3, according to Boring, “not only refers to literal poverty,” but also to a sense of humility and dependency. While the phrase “poor in spirit” is found in Qumran, (but not earlier) Boring states “What is at stake in the phrase for both Qumran and Matthew is neither economics nor spirituality - but the identity of the people of God - a Matthean theme.”

Economics, however, are the point. While emphasis on the politics of the poor saturate the Greek testament, we see justification for a suggestion that Jesus not only blessed the economically poor, but in this verse, as later I will show in Matt 6:19-24 and 25-34, is calling on the Christian community to suffer voluntary poverty. This is in keeping with the realized eschatology of a kingdom that has utterly forgone all worldly concepts of material society in exchange for utter obedience, as well as dependence on YHWH.

A closer look at the Gospel record of Jesus, in addition to 6:19-34, reveals that Scripture supports this reading of 5:3. In the Gospel of Matthew alone Jesus recognizes the idolatry inherent in first-century economics when He fails to produce a coin with Caesar’s image in Matthew 15:22 and parallels, plus, a plethora of other verses that bear out Jesus’ criticism of wealth, materialism, and self-centeredness.

Jesus calls for dependence on God, and neither Roman economics or temple taxes fit the call. In inaugurating the kingdom, Jesus reveals that poverty, both material and as exemplified by a humble spirit, are identifying markers of God’s called out community. Hagner writes, “It is important to note that the present tense is used for “theirs is” rather than the future tense. Because Jesus is present, the kingdom is already present…”

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

In Matthew 5:4 it is not difficult to imagine what the kingdom community might be mourning. This beatitude makes much sense in a Hebrew context, but may indeed be making an intended stab at Greco-Roman views on such behavior. Jewish laws regulated mourning practices, thus approving of them. In Greek and Roman literature, the idea of mourning death was thought to be a practice of the uneducated. Greek and Roman belief pursued blissful living, and felt that the soul was simply trapped in human form and waiting to be freed to move into the next realm. They felt mourning and grief was an expression of erroneous ideas and superstitions.

Betz adds that “Jewish literature displays a full range of grief…from personal loss to lament over Israel, the state of the world, and one’s own sinfulness. Long before the Greek Testament , “mourning” had become a common metaphor to describe the faithful Jew’s response to the terrible state of affairs in the life of Israel. Matthew establishes in verse 5:4 that “one of the characteristics of the true people of God is that they lament the present condition of the world.”

5 Blessed are the gentle (meek, humble), for they shall inherit the earth.

Originally, verse 5:5 may have been switched around with 5:4, as it represents a more natural parallel to verse 5:3, and some early manuscripts reflect this.

Matthew 5:5 is not only a reference to Psalm 37:11, but an exact quote of the same verse [37] in the LXX - “the meek will inherit the earth.” Meek (praeis) can alternately be translated as humble or gentle. The NASB uses gentle, the NRSV and NIV use meek. Matthew understands the verse as it stands in the Psalm as “referring to the reign of God.”

Boring says this reformulated Psalm 37 originally referred to the inheritance of the land of Palestine. In Matthew, the phrase “has become an eschatological metaphor for participation in the renewed earth (as in Matt. 19:28). In the Hellenized sense, verse 5:5 contains two very important concepts: That of humility, and that of possession of the earth.

Inheriting the earth is a common theme in early Christianity. Betz states that while the SM itself has no concept of mission, passages such as Matthew 5:5 and 5:13-16 were used in later interpretations to justify Christian world mission, as in Didache 9:4 which promised that the church would be gathered from the ends of the earth to God’s kingdom. “Inherit the earth” has often been interpreted as God’s eschatological promise to a mission-minded church.

Whether or not the SM is mission-minded, verse 5:5 should not be considered as such. Matthew 5:5 has a political reading that suggests, again, that YHYH’s eschatological kingdom will belong not to persons who are submissive or unassertive (meek), but those who are humble and non-violent (gentle) representatives of God’s love in response to oppression.

Inheritance has a deep meaning for Israel, especially during times of exile and foreign occupation. While Jesus may be calling upon Israel to give up its claim upon a national inheritance, indeed, adherence to the ethics of the SM will ultimately result in the church’s realization of God’s kingdom, not only in Palestine, but over and against the empire of Rome throughout the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied

Matthew 5:6 understands that “physical hunger is the result of injustice…(yet) hunger and thirst for righteousness is the beginning of the way out of it.” Horsley, however sees Matthew 5:6 (as well as 5:3) as a softened version of Q that is better represented in Luke 6:20-21. Boring states that “references to ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ have been added by Matthew. Thus Q’s blessing on those who hunger and thirst becomes a blessing on those who hunger and thirst for “righteousness.”

Yet, Matthew 5:6 takes up a promise familiar to the Jewish faithful who are understanding of eschatological and apocalyptic metaphor. Hunger and thirst is a theme of Isaiah 49:10, and righteousness is an ongoing theme of 1 Enoch 48:1:

And in that place I saw the fountain of righteousness,

Which was inexhaustible;

All around it were many fountains of wisdom;

And all the thirsty drank from them,

And were filled with wisdom,

And their dwelling were with the righteous and holy elect

While it may be that a form of this beatitude is found in Q, the Matthean source is probably closer to the original message of Jesus, as both He and Matthew’s author were addressing Jewish listeners familiar with the Hebrew texts we just quoted. Thirsting for righteousness was also a theme known to the Qumran community. Q and Luke may have eliminated words not familiar to their obviously different listeners.

Hagner writes, “In keeping with the preceding, the fourth beatitude names the literally hungry and thirsty, i.e. the downtrodden and oppressed, who especially hunger and thirst after the justice associated with God’s eschatological rule.” According to our focus on realized eschatology, those who are “satisfied” are those disciples who are part of Jesus’ revolutionary kingdom movement.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy

There is a change in the focus of the beatitudes beginning with Matthew 5:7. According to most scholars, the first four makarisms reflect a state of mind, more than conduct, though we have questioned that interpretation by showing that poverty and gentleness can indeed be physical undertakings. Matthew 5:7-9 reflect actions that are representative of the kingdom of heaven. Betz realizes that the action of having mercy is the ethical response to violence and enmity (see Luke 10:25-37). The word used here for “mercy,” eleemon, refers to concrete acts of mercy rather that simply a merciful attitude. Matthew twice adds “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” (Hos. 6:6) to his sources at 9:13 and 12:7 (see also Matt 18:21-35 and 23:23). Hagner sums up Matthew 5:7 as grasping the true essence not only of Christian non-violence, but realized kingdom language: “what the poor and oppressed have not received from the rich and powerful they should never the less show others.”

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

The next action appropriate to the kingdom citizen is the striving for purity of the heart. Reminiscent of Psalm 24:3,4-6, purity of the heart is a concept common to both Jewish and Greek (soul/psyche) religion. The concept of ‘pure at heart” and especially, “seeing God,” however, was just as important to early Christianity in referring to the reign of God.

“Pure at heart…” says Boring, “refers to the single-minded devotion to God appropriate to a monotheistic faith.” Hagner finds Matthew 5:8 quite difficult to relate to the other beatitudes. “Perhaps,” he writes, “it is meant to indicate that for even the downtrodden…for those to whom the good news of the kingdom comes, and inner purity is also required and is not something that can be presupposed.”

However, “pure at heart” and “they shall see God” fits perfectly with the story of the sheep and the goats that appears later in Matthew. It also fits well with later parts of the SM that declare the necessity of faithful and obedient undertakings in regard to the reign of God. Betz concludes that “the pure in (the) heart” are synonymous with “poor in spirit.” Indeed, purity of heart is the virtue that underlies all ethical attitudes of the SM.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God

The seventh blessing reflects a fundamental aspect of the Hebrew Bible. Ancient Judaism not only valued peace, but peacemaking and peace in the sense of wholeness, or shalom, were established as a virtue. Matthew 5:9 accords high status to the role of the peacemaker (not peacekeeper!). The titular “son of God” is used frequently in the SM as a self-description and the ethics of the SM in its entirety is intended for those who regard themselves potentially as “sons of God” or kingdom citizens.

Matthew 5:9 raises a question that has long been controversial in the modern church, indeed since Constantinianization. Is the term “peacemakers” to be taken primarily in a spiritualistic, religious or personal sense, or is it meant to apply to a wide range of socio-political circumstances as well? Many commentators admit that “disciples as peacemaking agents of God has indeed political implications.” Yet, Betz feels that, as exemplified by the antithesis of Matthew 5:21-48, the Sermon on the Mount deals primarily with personal and familial relationships, and not macro-political situations such as the Roman occupation.

I will show during comment on the antithesis, however, that peacemaking as meant by Jesus is, like the kingdom itself, inherently political, indeed, at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels of social relationships. Presently, however, we can limit our view of this makarism concerning peacemaking as Jesus’ and the early Christian answer to the politics of the Zealots. The Zealot movement hoped to usher in the kingdom of God through armed resistance at the national and individual level. The Zealots, by their militarism, hoped to demonstrate they were the “sons of God.”

Also, Roman emperors called themselves “peacemakers” and “sons of God.” Jesus regards His non-violent revolutionary movement as the true fulfillment of this claim, counter to the claims of Rome.

Boring cites “pre-70’s Q communities” as the natural continuation of “Jesus’ own anti-militaristic preaching.” This early church position is reflected as well in the tradition that Jewish Christians of Palestine refused to fight in the 66-70 C.E. war against Rome.

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Wisdom 2:10 relates the words of the persecutors: “Let us oppress the righteous poor man!” (see also Wisdom 12:10) Persecution as the world’s (and wealthy Israelites‘; see Amos 4:13) response to righteousness is a recurring theme in ancient thought. In verse 5:10, Jesus declares that those being persecuted are true kingdom citizens. The theme of persecution is particularly important to Matthew, very probably reflecting the situation the listeners to his Gospel found themselves in.

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