(53) Do to others what you would have them do to you – Matthew 7:12

Matthew devotes three chapters of his gospel to a block of Jesus’ teaching known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ as he delivered it on a mountainside. The teaching it contains is some of the greatest the world has ever heard.

Jesus started with a series of statements about who was ‘blessed’, meaning deeply happy and ultimately fulfilled. They appear contradictory at first sight. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3,5), he is talking about the attitudes that we need to have in order to live lives that are truly fulfilled in the long run. Being ‘poor in spirit’ means to know how flawed we are and how incapable of making ourselves right. It is only then that we can develop a right relationship with God. It is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth because God opposes the proud and gives to those who are humble.

Jesus goes on to give a range of teaching on how to deal with anger and lust, on divorce, on straight talking, on how to deal with those who oppose us and about giving to the poor. The old law allowed for retribution against those who harmed us by taking, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38 – KJV) but Jesus radically told his disciples to ‘turn the other cheek.’ This is not about being a doormat and letting people walk all over us but about confronting the person who has wronged you by facing them up to their actions. In Proverbs it talks about giving your enemy food and drink as the action of doing good to those who have done evil to you is like heaping burning coals on his head (see Proverbs 25:21-22).

Jesus goes on to tell them to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The model for this topsy-turvy behaviour is God himself who continues to love all men, including those who make themselves his enemy, by causing “his sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45). As Jesus says in Luke’s record of this teaching, “he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

Jesus’ teaching includes giving his disciples a model prayer which we know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. This was not intended to be said as a mindless chant but gives us a framework for prayer starting with a focus on “Our Father in heaven” and his will being done on earth (and, by implication, in us) before moving on to our need for “our daily bread” and for forgiveness, and ending with a plea to be kept from temptation (see Matthew 6:9-13). It is good to pray through its phrases and expand them as we make them relevant to our daily life.

Jesus uses some vivid pictures which make his teaching memorable. The most striking of these is related to judging others. He likens our tendency to see faults in others while being blind to our own to a man who tries to get a speck of sawdust out of his brother’s eye while he has a plank in his own eye. It is a cartoon-like picture that cannot fail to lodge in our memory (see Matthew 7:3-5).

Jesus sums up his teaching about how we treat others with the famous statement that we should do to others what we would have them do to us. He says that this sums up the Law and the Prophets, meaning the whole of the Old Testament (see Matthew 7:12).

Jesus finishes with a picture of two men building houses. One digs foundations and builds on the rock while the other wants quick results so he just builds on the sand. Both houses look the same until the rain and the floods come and the second house is washed away leaving the first standing (see Matthew 7:24-27). The wise builder is a picture of one who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice while the foolish builder is like the one who hears and doesn’t. The Sermon on the Mount is full of great teaching but its value comes from working to apply it in our own lives day by day.

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