Summary: Sermon #11 in a study in the Sermon on the Mount
In the previous two sermons we have handled verses twenty and twenty one, if not thoroughly, I hope at least sufficiently to stress to the hearer and reader that what we have before us is a faithful record of the Lord of the universe, the one who spoke all things into existence, the one who has absolute right and reign over His creation, making some outlandish demands and declaring His own authority to do so.
He places Himself in a position to refute the most influential teachers and religious authorities of the day by saying ‘you have heard…but I say to you’, and this is prefaced by His assertion that if we have any hope at all of ever seeing Heaven, it will only be as a result of our righteousness exceeding that of some of the most tenaciously and faithfully religious people in all of history.
Now the reason I open with these statements and bring these, verses 20 and 21 back into the picture at this juncture, is because they constitute the front bracket, so to speak containing a section for which the closing bracket is equally if not even more outlandish to our human ears and minds.
He tells us as the ultimate authority on Heaven and heavenly things that our righteousness must be above any that men have demonstrated in the course of their religious practices and daily lives, and ends it with the shocking command to “…be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
My final offering to you in explaining why I begin this way and why I call these verses, 20 and 48 ‘brackets’ (even though they are not presented as such in the narrative), is that verse 48 begins with the word, ‘therefore’, indicating that the things Jesus has said between verse 22 and 47 are meant to teach us what sort of life and behavior ought to mark our paths in this world as opposed to the thin veneer of religiosity that the Scribes and Pharisees have fostered upon us and demonstrated for us as though they were the final authority in these things.
When I began to ponder my approach to these verses and how I would present them I was reminded of a short film I saw years ago that demonstrated the techniques Walt Disney used to animate his first full length picture, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.
Wanting to improve on the two dimensional nature of cartoons, he had his artists draw the background on one sheet of the clear plastic they were using, then the characters and other objects on another sheet laid over the top of that, then the foreground, such as trees and shrubbery on another sheet, laid over the top of the others.
That is not a technical description of how it was done, by any means, but I’m sure you get the idea. When they were done and the pictures were put to film the animation had a 3d look so it actually seemed that the characters were passing between trees and behind buildings; that they were in front of one another or behind one another and so forth.
I remembered that documentary I saw years ago as I began to think this sermon through, because it seems that is what Jesus was doing.