Someone has described religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices that unite into one single moral community.
The point here is that morals are connected to group life. They are worked out within community.
Character is sharpened by the conversations that go on in fellowship with others.
But what’s moral in one community may not be so in another. Benedict Arnold was a traitor to Americans but a hero to the British.
Allegiances conflict. People have to decide in which community they will be moral.
Morality and community are so intertwined that the emergence of a new community goes hand in hand with the emergence of a new morality.
So it was with the establishment of the church. In laying the moral foundations of God’s new creation, Jesus drew a sharp boundary between new and old. He said, ‘You have heard….
- do not murder, but I tell you whoever is angry with his brother is in danger of judgment.” Mt 5:21
- do no commit adultery, but tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Mt 5:28ff
- anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce, but I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife…commits adultery.” Mt 5:31ff
- do not break your oaths, but I tell you, swear not at all.” Mt 5:33ff.
Jesus contrasts the morality of the new community with that of the old. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, bless those who curse you– all of these prescriptions are the new morality required in the new community Jesus came to inaugurate.
Yet, they seem so impossible to do. Scholars and bible students have struggled for centuries to understand how Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can be lived.
Who can live up to its demands?
The answer is no one…
…because the Sermon is not designed for individuals, but for a community.
It is not a set of rules for being better individuals, but about how life in God’s community is to be lived.
People cannot turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and return blessings for curses as isolated individuals.
But they can do those things– or at least start to do those kinds of things– in the context of a believing community.
Tags: Benedict Arnold