I've read the Sermon on the Mount dozens of times. I've taught from it and preached from it. I still don't know if I get it right and I know how hard it is to do it right! The SOM has a long history of interpretation. In my own life I have been told Jesus did not intend his words to be taken seriously for today. They are for later, in heaven. While that takes the pressure off, it never made much sense. Will we be persecuted in heaven or will there be mourning there? Will we have to take the shirt off our backs and give it to someone with no shirt?
Similarly, when Jesus talks about getting rewards in heaven, he means the promises he makes here come true in heaven. But, the rewards Jesus mentions sound pretty earth bound to me, i.e, the meek will inherit the earth.
Then, I was told Jesus meant to show us how he intended us to live knowing we could never live up to it. It was kind of like this is the law and it should drive us to repent and to God's grace. But this didn't make sense either, if we cannot ever hope to attain it, why try?
Then, I was told it was like the way Jesus wanted us to live - the way he lived - an ideal Christian life we ought to aim for but we can't expect to hit it. Well, that seemed like Jesus just meant to frustrate his followers. Kind of like holding out a gorgeous apple before us but never letting us take a bite of it. Pretty soon, you'd probably get tired of trying.
This morning while reading the SOM yet again, I came across something N.T. Wright said that did make sense. When Jesus talks about heaven in the SOM...."heaven is God's space, where full reality exists, close by our ordinary (earthly) reality and interlocking with it." Jesus taught his followers to pray, that God's kingdom will come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Wright says, the life of heaven - where God is King- is to become the life of the world, transforming the earth into a place of beauty and delight that God always intended. AND THOSE WHO FOLLOW JESUS ARE TO BEGIN TO LIVE BY THAT RULE HERE AND NOW!
We can live now in the way it will make sense to live then. It's a choice to live according to God's kingdom instead of living according to the values of the kingdoms we see all around us.
It's giving instead of grasping, sharing instead of hoarding, forgiving instead of resenting, blessing instead of cursing, loving instead of hating, affirming instead of condemning, accepting instead of judging and going the extra mile when you are too tired to go any further.
It's like seeing two big circles drawn on a piece of paper which overlap each other in the middle. The SOM is about that overlap - Living out God's Kingdom reality in the messy mix of the kingdoms of this world.