A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 12 February 2017
Throughout all four of the gospels the note of authority about Jesus’ teaching is particularly striking. He teaches with an authority quite unlike the scribes; and this clearly had an impact on those who heard him. Time and again the gospel writers say that people were amazed when they heard Jesus, astonished – where does he get it from, they ask each other, isn’t he the son of Mary and Joseph?
As far as we know Jesus had no formal teaching himself, yet when he spoke people sat up and listened.
We’re going through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel at the moment, and this morning we’ve just finished a section of it that contains 6 antitheses, contrasts or oppositions. They are particularly striking in the note of authority that Jesus claims for his teaching.
These 6 antitheses all go something like:
‘You have heard that it was said….’
to which Jesus then adds:
‘But I say to you….’
This kind of way of teaching was well known in Judaism, but it would have referred to other accepted authorities:
‘You have heard that it was said by so and so….
But so and so says……’
What is without parallel amongst the rabbis was anybody quoting from the Torah, the Law, and then saying:
‘But I say to you….’
So these 6 antitheses are a good example of Jesus teaching with unusual authority:
‘You have heard that it was said….
But I say to you….’
Matthew’s gospel seems to portray Jesus as a new Moses.
The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is a deliberate echo of Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. There are other echoes too in Matthew’s gospel of Moses and his life; but while Moses receives the 10 commandments from God, Jesus gives the teaching himself, speaks with his own authority.
A new Moses Jesus may be, but one who, certainly in Matthew the gospel writer’s eyes, is greater than Moses:
‘But I say to you: Do not resist an evil doer…..
But I say to you: Love your enemies….’
Each of these 6 antitheses explain what Jesus meant when he said earlier on in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the
prophets; I have come not to abolish,’ he said, ‘but to fulfil.’
Jesus intensifies the demands of the law so that they go deeper; he sharpens what the law says so that it refers to the inner dispositions within each of us; he’s wanting his teaching to reach down into our hearts to reveal our inner thoughts and motivations.
And in order to do that, the words he uses are uncompromising even shocking, prodding our imaginations and inviting us to a different way of living – his way of love and holiness and self-giving!