Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: sermon on the mount

When It’s Not a Heart Matter

Okay, so Jesus is giving his sermon and he says some pretty wild stuff. One of the wild things was that you can be guilty of cheating on your spouse without actually doing anything physical with anyone else. How so? If you do it in your heart, he says, you did it. He says all sorts of other things in the same vein. Jesus focused on the intentions of the heart in a way that revolutionized ethics forever. His cry was not just ‘serve God and help your neighbour.’ It was ‘love God and love your neighbour.’ Wild, eh?

But is it possible to focus on the heart too much?

Jesus said, “If someone hits you, let him do it again.” How should we take that? Well, obviously it means that we ought to have an attitude of peace and love even in the face of people who are mean to us. Right? It is, after all, a heart issue. Right? So much of a heart issue, in fact, that I don’t really need to do what Jesus is suggesting here, so long as my heart is in the right place. And the same goes for his idea that we should help thieves rip us off, give to every bum who asks from us and become new people. Right? Right?

So, give to whoever asks = Have a giving spirit (actual giving optional).
Don’t retaliate = Have a non-retaliatory heart (and retaliate if you feel the need).
Be born again = Be willing to become a new kind of person (and it will happen in some intangible, non-real kinda way).
Love your neighbour in the same way you love yourself = Love him internally (little outward action necessary).

Does any of this make any sense?

Can I actually say, when the dude on the street asks me for money, ‘I gave him money in my heart, just like Jesus told me to’? Only if I can say, after being caught cheating on my wife, that I didn’t really do it because I didn’t do it in my heart.

Not a chance – it’s not just about the heart. When Jesus gathered the people together and separated the accepted from the rejected he didn’t say to the accepted:

Come, you blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, for I was hungry, and in your heart you gave me food, I was a stranger, and in your heart you welcomed me in…Whatever you did in your heart to the least of these, you did in your heart to me.

And he didn’t say to the rejected:

Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry, and you did not feed me in your heart, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me in your heart…Whatever you didn’t do in your heart to the least of these, you did not do it to me.

The focus on the heart was meant to spur us on to deeper good works, not give us a cop-out.

Revisiting the Wolves

I’m working through a preaching series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And so I have read it more than a few times over the past few months. And nearly every time I go through it I am blown away. Pick it up, read it through. Matthew 5-7. It’ll only take a few minutes.

Wild, eh? It’s so clear and simple and sharp. Its scandalous ethic embodies love to such a perfect measure that I have never heard a sermon that referenced it without trying to weaken it.

Yes, Jesus said we shouldn’t go to church if we know we have relationship problems that need fixing, but since our bodies are the gifts we lay at the altar, that doesn’t really apply to us.
Yes, Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek, but since he mentioned being slapped on the right cheek [insert poorly researched and irrelevant cultural info], he didn’t really mean it.
Yes, Jesus said to give to whoever asks of us, but since one of his allegorical parables involved people taking care of money, we don’t actually need to do it.

On and on it goes. I’m no theologian, but it almost seems like an attack on the direct and simple teachings of Jesus, eh?

The neat thing is what he said near the end, and I’ve already alluded to it on this blog. False prophets and fruit.

Picture this: Jesus has just finished unpacking and defining his ethic in the simplest, plainest language possible. The only way to screw this up is to have serious vested interests. He anticipates, I think, that others will hear the sermon and spread / explain it (as if it needed any explaining!). And so he gives us this criteria by which we can tell if someone is really on board with him or not. Fruit. Outworkings. The stuff you see.

Apply that to the sermon and what do we have?

A man claiming to speak for God is a liar if his ethic does not match up with Jesus’.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that if we’re not perfect we’re false prophets. I’m suggesting that when we explain away and neuter the direct, simple and honest ethics of Jesus, we are false prophets. Wolves. Diseased. Blood-thirsty. Very very bad.

Is that scary? I think so. It’s scary because it’s so very subtle.

The wolves are dressed like sheep! You can tell if someone is off-base instantly if his off-based-ness is due to a wild and incorrect philosophy. But when the philosophy and doctrine is right but the ethic is off you can hardly ever tell.