But I decided to re-read Matthew just as a refresher.
3 Parts to the Gospel
It really breaks into 3 different part.
1) Historical information
2) Magic/Miracle work
3) Christian Philosophy
The 1st part is only moderately interesting. I suspect the Bible is more historically accurate than most non-religious people believe. I think many of the places and people existed and many of the events happened in some form or another.
The 2nd part is interesting, but only in the same way that other fables and legends are interesting. Unfortunately I think they mostly work as a mechanism for people to justify why they can’t possibly be as good as Jesus or to solidify the status of the special character. “Hey, Jesus turned water into wine… if I can’t do that how can I possibly love my enemies.”
The 3rd part is the one I find the most important as it is fundamentally actionable.
Reading through it again I’m left with 2 overwhelming conclusions:
1) In 2,000 years I really wish we would have made more moral progress than we have.
2) There are incredibly few Christians in the world… by that I mean people who actually try to follow Jesus in their actions. If you put the bar at the execution level there’s probably like 100 Christians in the last 2000 years, but I think that bar is just way too high… so we’ll settle for people who TRY.
What does Jesus expect from us?
I am consistently amazed by the simplicity of Jesus’ message. While it is iterated and stated many different ways it really comes down to the “golden rule” which is of course “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I think MOST of Christian teaching is right there in the sermon on the mount. Jesus is very clear about fulfilling rather than abolishing the existing law. That is, Jesus is iterating on the past moral directives which were lacking. This is why I believe that Jesus’ teachings sort of replace things like the 10 commandments. They are morally superior versions in that they move away from vengeance, retribution, and punishment and move to compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice.
Who is blessed?
1) those poor in spirit
2) the mourners
3) the meek
4) those who hunger for righteousness
5) the Merciful
6) the clean of heart
7) the peacemakers
8) those persecuted for the sake of righteousness
This pretty much locks out people who are angry, vengeful and judgmental. It takes out people who support war and violence. It takes out people who are arrogant and selfish and proud.
What do we do about Anger?
Ok, we all get pissed off at things, people, events. What does Jesus say?
“But what I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement, whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire.So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
So think about someone you are angry at right now, go tell them; try and rectify it and see how you feel. Personally I think this is super simple and super hard.
It sees “evil” as a giant pile outside of the individual and if you respond to evil with evil you simply make the pile larger. All you can do is try to make the pile smaller. Life and death of an individual are far less important than the overall size of the evil pile. This is an extreme version of self sacrifice and it’s really tough because most people who risk self sacrifice do, in fact, die anonymously and don’t go on to win noble peace prizes or have books written about them.
It’s common to take the position “well, I’ll stop being violent when everyone else does” but it is precisely this attitude that leads to accumulated evil. In fact you have to stop being violent most when others are directing it towards you.
In truth we can not know the individual circumstances of everyone. So when you do not give money to a beggar because he might be on drugs or lying; but you buy a coffee or a pair of shoes without knowing if someone in the chain who is on drugs or lying will benefit you are bending your morality to suit your purpose. Jesus is pretty consistent in his teachings and I suspect if he were alive today to clarify, he’d just say the same thing:
“If you see someone who needs something and you can help them, help them. What’s so damn hard about that to understand? Why are you people trying to make my simple message so damn complicated… just fucking help each other and shit will get better, OK?”
This pretty much is an anti-social media echo chamber message as well. If you surround yourself with people who agree with you and group up to attack people who don’t… you’re doing it wrong.
This is another common thread in the Gospels. Jesus is pretty egalitarian. He references how the Father or God pretty much grants the same environment for people regardless of their behavior (i.e. sun shines on the just and the unjust, etc.). This is a powerful message because it requires complete inner peace. It is exactly when the attack is the most painful and the most personal that you must love that person and pray for them.
It’s scary to think of the implications. Imagine someone who burns down your house or murders your children. Could you love them? Could you meet this bar? Or are you just someone who loves those who love you already? I don’t think I could, but it seems like the right direction.
That’s right, Jesus expects you to do things as well as say things. So if you just say the words and think the thoughts, it doesn’t do much good. You are primarily evaluated based on your actions.
Implicitly if you do behave in this way but don’t say “Lord, Lord” you are still building your house on that rock. Deeds matter MORE than belief. You can dream about that perfect house but you gotta build it.
I didn’t cover everything. It’s amazing that so much is compressed into a fairly small amount of text. Of course the interpretation of that sermon has filled many thousands of pages in many thousands of books.
It’s a bit sad that in 2000 years humanity has advanced technology to incredible degrees but a simple moral message is just as difficult to execute today as it was back then. I think humanity in general is improved but the evolution of morality is quite a bit more difficult than the evolution of technology, it seems.