May 1, 2010
The “Sermon on the Mount.” Simply to mention it, in the context of any discussion of Christian ethics, will change the tenor of the conversation. It may impart an aura of sanctity and infallibility, or it may evoke images of Anabaptist radicals turning their collective cheek. It now looms larger in our cultural imagination than perhaps any other Biblical passage, standing, depending on whom you ask, for all that good about Christianity or religion, or for all that is weak, silly, or absurd. The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount have come to take on an absolutist dimension, so that Max Weber could famously write,
“The Sermon on the Mount, by which we mean the absolute ethics of the Gospel, is something far more serious than those who are so fond of citing its commandments today believe. It is not to be taken frivolously. What has been said about causality in science also applies to this ethic, namely that it is not a hired cab which one may stop at will and climb into or out of as one sees fit. Rather, the meaning of the sermon (if it is not to be reduced to banality) is precisely this: we must accept it in its entirety or leave it entirely alone.”
“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”