Unhelpful Extremes

I read the Sermon on the Mount today, one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, and a lot of things really struck me. But I think the biggest one was that Jesus provides lots of examples that we conveniently ignore when we read this passage.

Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

In 6:38-42, Jesus gives the often taken-out-of-context command, “Turn the other cheek”. This has been used as justification for governments to not defend their citizenry and for men to not defend their families from those who would do them harm. But it just doesn’t say anything like that. Jesus gives several examples, but all of them in context are pretty tame. Getting slapped twice is an insult. Few people have been permanently harmed by a slap. He also says to hand over your cloak if someone sues you to take your tunic. Ok, someone wants the shirt of your back and instead of arguing, you show generosity. He says go the extra mile for your enemy. A mile is another 15 minutes.

An insult, a piece of clothing, an extra 30 minutes out of your day. Jesus is not talking about war here. He could have given any example. He does not say, “If they kill your wife, let them kill your child also.” In the grand scheme of things, these are minor troubles.

Additionally, in 7:7-11, Jesus gives the command ask, seek and knock. He says everyone who asks receives. But he doesn’t give examples of asking for a palace or a kingdom or a coffer full of gold coins. His example is a meal. Fish. Bread. Every day things that the Jewish people needed to survive. Food wasn’t right around the corner at the local, organic bistro for this audience. Simply staying fed required many hours out of the day. The requests aren’t for extravagance or a lavish lifestyle, they are requests for basic survival.

This is what I am pondering today.

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