David Yount column, 1/13/12: Lessons from the Sermon on the Mount


There are no cookie-cutter Christians.

Despite the moral traits they have in common, the saints themselves possess distinct personalities. What they share is the habitual determination to think and act like Jesus himself. Not all of Jesus' followers were pious and perfect, but the majority embraced lives of integrity and service motivated by love for God and humankind.

The road map to the imitation of Christ is found in the Sermon on the Mount, the loftiest and most demanding expression of what God had in mind when he created man and woman. Jesus told his followers not only how they must act, but what kind of people they must become to inherit God's kingdom.

Jesus introduced his sermon with the Beatitudes -- astonishing affirmations that turned conventional morality on its head for all time. To capture the shock value Jesus intended, here they are in the 1972 translation by English theologian J.B. Phillips:

"How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

"How happy are those who know what sorrow means, for they will be given courage and comfort!

"Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

"Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for true goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

"Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

"Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

"Happy are those who make peace, for they will be known as the sons of God!

"Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

"And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake!"

The translator's choice of the word "happy" in place of the conventional term "blessed" is not only authoritative but serves to drive home Jesus' point: to be blessed is to be happy. Equipped with such qualities, people's lives will coincide with God's original intentions for us.

True disciples are not passive, but active. It was Jesus' mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable of his time, confident that the truth would make everyone free.

Men and women are the only moral creatures in God's universe, because we alone enjoy a freedom of action that he withheld from the rest of his creation. Jesus' disciples welcome challenges that make demands on them.

Like saints of old, contemporary disciples adopt the mind of Christ, aligning their wills with his. With grace and effort we can become the persons God envisioned when he created us and gave his son to die for us.

Jesus promised as much.

"Humanly speaking," he said, "it is impossible, but with God anything is possible."

(David Yount's new book is "What Are We to Do? Living the Sermon on the Mount." Contact him at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22193 and dyount31@verizon.net.)

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